The Malt Whisky Library; & Elgin Lounge Bar, Bloomsbury

Yeah, that’s two hotel bars, in two hotels at once.

And though this isn’t strange really, the reason for it is so… So. Bizarre.

Alright, this was supposed to be one single review of the Malt Whisky Library bar of the Grange Blooms Hotel which has gathered a bit of attention after winning one of the “Top 10 London Library Bars” in Unnamed Popular Online Magazine (I had not heard of this bar before, which was strange, but probably explains my experience there). But circumstances which will be explained have made it a double review situation.

 

With the intention of getting some research done, the Hoodooist gathered his books to get to a library bar – regular libraries are too tedious, and a bit of whisky never hurt to study with, so the Malt Whisky Library sounded like a good idea to check out. Once I got there though, an employee ‘escorted’ (read: dragged) me out of the bar, out of the Grange Blooms Hotel, to the bar in their sister hotel next door, the Elgin Lounge at the Grange White Hall Hotel.

Though it was literally next door, I hadn’t shown up to review the Elgin. The response I received was “Well, you were the only person there, no one really comes there, so we thought we’d move you here.”

Well, that’s interesting, for a winning library bar.

Overhearing our conversation, a Fellow Who Seemed In Charge said he would check to see what happened and would get back to me in a moment.

In that time I grabbed a single Hennessy VS (they didn’t have Courvoisier. THEY DIDN’T HAVE COURVOISIER.), and had a quick look at the Grange White Hall’s Elgin Lounge Bar:

Type of Bar: Hotel, Tiny
Damage£
Ideal for: Feeling awkward

Save the tidy hardwood bar and the sketches of ancient Greek wine krater, the furniture of the Elgin is rather repulsive. The choice of spirits is minimal, and entirely from an off-license – not saying it’s impossible to get a decent spirit at one, but the limited spirit count was disappointing. And other than Fellow In Charge, employees were not fluent in English, which made conversation a bit complicated. Not to mention, people seemed adamant to not allow me into the Malt Whisky Library like some kind of unfinished Kafka novella.

Drinks: *
Atmosphere: *
Service: *

Fellow In Charge returns, after a bit of protest, and introduces himself as Jacek, the only person who seems to care at all about the customer. He still attempted to dissuade me from going to Malt Whisky Library by explaining the choice of spirits wasn’t much better. Either way, politeness and a slightly unsettling smile can get you far in life and I found myself at the Malt Whisky Library at the Grange Blooms Hotel again.

Type of Bar: Hotel, Tiny, Library
Damage£
Ideal for: Neat spirits, Whisky, feeling kinda vindicated.

Libbar
Okay, this isn’t a library. It’s a room with a single bookshelf. As for the Whisky Library, there wasn’t much. Most are over the off-license counter, with only a few that stood out.

I was told that the place ‘had not been used in a while’. That it was ‘under renovation some time back’ (there was no sign of renovation). And that ‘it is only used for events’. Amounting to about 6 or 7 reasons nobody wanted visitors to this strange little space.

Said shelf.

Said shelf.

Jacek, though the only individual here who seemed to want to satisfy a customer, makes an odd remark about his wife calling him since he ‘should’ve finished work an hour ago’. If that was a remark about me slowing him down, well, where are the other employees to take his place? The place is utterly vacant.

My first choice of 26 year whisky had pieces of cork in the spirit, so was kept aside. My second choice’s cork broke off when attempting to open it. So we settled for a single grain Highland Invergordon. Again, not a special whisky, but a decent one nonetheless, especially considering a double amounted to about 4 pounds.

Having gotten my whisky and armchair, and the quiet space, I grab my book and get to work. And then the screaming started. Employees in the kitchen (there is only a door between them and myself) launch into an argument. They must really be used to being alone down here. The swearing turns out to be a bit hilarious, but I actually do get some work done.

The argument ends as one of the participants stomps out and catches sight of me, and freezes in disbelief. It’s like no one in this building had seen humans before. Remember ‘The Others’? Yeah.

The Hoodooist pays. He leaves.
He asks no questions.

UPDATE: A quick Google shows that the Grange Blooms is supposedly haunted.

Whether or not this is associated with the above is beyond me.

Drinks: *
Atmosphere: ***
Service: Does funny background swearing count?

 

The Elgin Lounge

2-5 Montague Street,
London, WC1B 5BU

http://www.grangehotels.com/hotels-london/grange-white-hall/bars-restaurants/elgin-lounge-bar/
The Malt Whisky Library

7 Montague Street,
London, WC1B 5BP

http://www.grangehotels.com/hotels-london/grange-blooms/bars-restaurants/

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Sovereign Loss, Brixton

Type of Bar: Vintage, Tiny, Late Night, Speakeasy
Damage: ££
Ideal for: Date, Small Groups, Nightcap

The launch of Sovereign Loss in Brixton this week marks Brixton Road/Coldharbour Lane as a major cocktail hub in the South now, joining stars like the Shrub and Shutter and Three Eight Four (Click HERE for review!). With the brand ambassadors of Aperol and Whitley Neill Gin running the show, Sovereign Loss is bound to be a South London star. As a major fan of Chris Dennis (of Trailer Happiness fame), having him behind the bar means this was a launch the Hoodooist would certainly not miss.

Pressing the buzzer at the Trade Entrance door just beside the Prince of Wales, one climbs up the stairs, past a smoking terrace, to a candlelit, intimate space that could be best described as Cuban Art Deco. Initially quite relaxed, the lights get darker and music louder as the night goes on – and on it goes – with the 24 hour license, the weekend sees the bar open till 5AM, on Sundays till last man standing! But not being a club, this exactly where the Hoodooist wants to find himself instead of some riotous oonce-oonce shindig at 3AM – just chilling with an El Presidente.

Sovereign Loss Negroni

The cocktail list is short, but impressive, and matching the Art Deco surrounds, with a good balance between short and long drinks (but rather heavy on the orange). Let’s begin with the most impressive.

The Canopy, now this was a surprise. The Hoodooist so rarely enjoys a long drink, but heavens, this is incredible. And so simple! Whitley Neill gin, orange sherbert, Curacao, lemon and soda. Being a smooth, subtle gin, Whitley Neill is excellent with its citrus for a cocktail like the Canopy. It beings with a burst of the orange sherbert, such an excellent flavour, moving to a short expression of the gin, and settling on the Curacao. A bit on the sweet side, but well balanced with tartness. A wonderful drink to begin with. But, enjoy it quickly, it dilutes easily.

The Presidente is a fairly classic El Presidente with Santa Teresa Reserva rum, Cinzano dry vermouth, Curacao and pomegranate. I adore this rum for the Presidente, fruits and caramel, followed by winter spices and oak. The Cinzano’s dryness does not overpower this wonderful rum and neither does the pomegranate. Easily one of the best short drinks on this menu.

The Metropole was a very surprising drink: Courvoisier Exclusif, sweet vermouth, Dubonnet, Peychaud’s and Orange bitters. The initial flavour is intensely chocolate, with strains of the CV Exclusif’s Borderies Cru fruit lines simmering in. Halfway through, the other ingredients begin to shine, the vermouths open up to the palate, followed by the orange bitters in the background. A very intriguing, but heavy drink.

The Metropole

The Metropole

The next two drinks have incredible potential, but are a bit imbalanced to intense sweetness.

The traditional, classic New Corpse Reviver: Louis Royer VS Pommeau (which I am deducing would be Louis Royer VS Cognac, apple must, with apple brandy) and sweet vermouth follows Craddock’s recipe in the 1930’s Savoy Handbook, going to show that not all classic recipes are intensely dry or bitter. This have a very heavy mouthfeel, and is intensely sweet. If you are looking for a dessert drink, this would be a good one.

As we said with the Pisco Embassy last week (Click HERE for review), Pisco once again proves to be a difficult ingredient to use in cocktails. The Apiscopalian brings Pisco Porton, Aperol and peach to the table. In order to balance the sweetness of the peach with the Aperol and strong Pisco, the drink swings to the opposite end of the spectrum with a thick, syrupy texture making it difficult to drink. The intense sweetness, if you aren’t a fan of it, can make it rather sickly. Not a fan of this drink, but at our table of four, one did enjoy it for the first half of the glass.

Finally, the unfortunate Journalist, taken out of the Savoy Handbook again, Beefeater gin, Curacao, sweet and dry vermouth, citrus, bitters, was not only too overbearing with the orange and citrus throughout, but when made, was overdone with the orange peel spray, resulting in being too oily.

The Apiscopalian

The Apiscopalian

Serivce-wise, with Joe and Chris, it is impossible to have anything negative with the service, whereas kinks regarding table-service are being ironed out once it gets crowded. Regarding cocktails, the Presidente, Canopy and Metropole stood out as winners, with the New Corpse Reviver running up. Though orange pervades the menu, it is not tiresome, thankfully. And though the Journalist and Apiscopalian do not quite work, you can tell by the recipe.

A fantastic bartender, a great design, and an incredible 24 hour license make Sovereign Loss a perfect late night spot when partying in the area. Hoodooist Recommended!

Drinks: *** – ****
Atmosphere: ****
Service: ***

 

Sovereign Loss,

469 Brixton Road,
London SW9 8HH

http://www.sovereignloss.com

Pisco Embassy @ Comedor Grill & Bar, Islington

Type of Bar: Late Night, Peruvian, Pisco
Damage££  £££
Ideal for: Date, Small Groups, Large Groups, Party, Pisco

Ah, Islington. Though it has stars like 69 Colebrooke Row (Click HERE for review!), it needed some new blood, or something that stood out from the myriad of mediocre French restaurants that litter the area.

And so head bartender Jose Francisco-Modonese turns the Comedor Grill and Bar into a Peruvian drinking den everything Friday and Saturday night. A late-late night ‘pop up’ of sorts, from midnight to 5AM on weekends, tables are shoved out of the way for a dance floor with DJ JJ Latino at the helm.

London has a complicated relationship with pisco. The unaged grape brandy (think of other unaged brandies like Grappa, Zivania, or Palinca) has tried to break out into the UK cocktail market repeatedly since 2011 and always fell short – maybe it is its inherent difficulty to be used in cocktails. As bartender Jose put it, “Everyone’s had the Pisco Sour,” – another notable twist on the Sour would be Gareth Evans’ Piscotheque. And the Hoodooist could see it being used well in a punch.

And yet, I was intrigued by some of the choices made in the cocktails here. Some were either twists on classics (like a Metropolitan, but with Pisco. Or a Mojito, but with Pisco), or recipes brought over from Peru, but so few really channelled *Peru*, if I’m making any sense. For example, drinks using bitters, went for Angostura instead of using flavours that would work with Peruvian Amargo Chuncho bitters.

Let’s start with a few drinks that worked well:

A traditional Pisco Sour; Pisco and sugar/lime/eggwhite/Angostura: providing a well-balanced Sour, dry, just right. A safe bet.

The Piscojito (Pisco Quebranta, sugar, lime and spearmint), obviously a twist on the Mojito, makes a surprisingly smooth drink that beats a traditional Mojito any day of the week. By going back to the original Cuban Mojito recipe using spearmint instead of the popular modern use of mint, we get a subtler, more fragrant and less assaulting cocktail that allows the drinker to enjoy the flavours of the pisco quebranta instead of just herbs.

The Pisco Embassy Punch… Whew. Okay, the Hoodooist loves raw pineapple, just the fresh fruit – but for some reason in juice or cocktail form, it just sends shivers down his spine. Yet, this drink, though not my style, I recognise as being well-made, well-balanced, though simple (as long as you like pineapple juice). Not strictly a ‘punch’ by definition, the 1850s Californian recipe: Pisco, pineapple juice, lime, cinnamon syrup brings up a different perception of the Californian gold rush, one with a strongly Caribbean sepia tone filter.

L-R: Chicha Sour as shot, Pisco Embassy Punch

L-R: Chicha Sour as shot, Pisco Embassy Punch

Now for the other drinks involved. Some were a bit more adventurous, but there was one flaw that seemed to pervade many of the drinks we had: imbalance. Instead of having one leading flavour, it would be overpowering.

The Chicha Sour brings Chicha Morada – a sweet non-alcoholic maize drink to the Pisco Sour. The purple maize adds a lovely colour to the drink, though I wish they removed the sugar syrup because god, help me, this is diabetes in a glass. Sickly sweet, and almost sticky, with a thick mouthfeel. I can see this, if served shorter as a dessert drink as possibly working.

The Paddington Bear – Pisco, cinnamon and clove syrup, lime and orange juice and bit of marmalade (obviously!) had overdone the spice syrup, though it is an excellent idea, this can be saved really easily if the syrup is toned down a bit. Similarly, the Capitan: Orange peel-infused Pisco, whisky barrel bitters and red vermouth infused with cinnamon, cloves, star anise and 2 smoked star anise was bit too heavy with the star anise. Less of that, and we are looking at a sharp, tart, winter drink for those with less of a taste for juicier drinks.

The Macchu Picchu Nights has far too much going on with shiso infused pisco, lemon, apple juice, red basil syrup and crème de cassis, but as far as sweet drinks go, works better than the Paddington Bear. But still excruciatingly sweet with bit too intense cassis.

Finally, as a fan of Chilcanos, I was a bit surprised at how over the top the ginger flavours were here. Pisco, ginger ale, fernet branca, lime, sugar and muddled ginger slices I can only imagine meant too much muddled ginger.

The Capitan

The Capitan

On the other hand, the choice of Piscos is excellent, and Jose’s knowledge of the spirit is extensive – what would make the Pisco Embassy a hit, other than the Midnight to Dawn license, would be the Pisco flights he can take you on – and this is the primary reason I would urge you to visit if you wish to develop your knowledge on Pisco.

Otherwise, I find that the cocktails do need to only slightly tone down some flavours in their drinks, especially with some drinks costing a whopping 12 pounds (this affects the scores) – since the drinks here do have incredible potential, and the passion of the staff is admirable. It’s a fun atmosphere, with a dancefloor and great music, with excellent service and bar snacks – so there is a lot to enjoy here, particularly at 3AM!

Drinks: Cocktails – ** , Pisco Flights – ****
Atmosphere: ***
Service: ***

Pisco Embassy @ Comedor Bar & Grill

176 Upper Street, Islington
London N1 1RG

http://www.piscoembassy.london

BUMP Caves, London Bridge

Type of Bar: BasementExperimental
Damage:££
Ideal for: Date, Small Groups, Originality

BUMP Caves is another of the quick sprouting cocktail bars in the London Bridge/Bermondsey area that only recently was seriously lacking in cocktail venues.

The innocuous pub, the Draft House, hides an experimental cocktail venue in the basement that specialises in all their own homemade spirits, and what they call ‘Bumps’: spirits customised with various flavours by Max Chater and his rotavap.

So you could get a beer, or a shrub and soda, which you can mix a BUMP into. For example, Craft beer Beavertown Smog Rocket adds ginger, pecan and sweet potato.

But not being a beer guy, the Hoodooist went in for the cocktails.

Sneaking into one of the snug booths (said ‘caves’), the Hoodooist was pleased to find a bartender whose drinks he greatly enjoyed at the Pickle Jar launch in London Cocktail Week ’14 (Click HERE for article!) dishing out the drinks. And just as the last time, service was impeccable, friendly and conversational.

Electric Kool Aid Acid Test (EKAAT)

Electric Kool Aid Acid Test (EKAAT)

The Hoodooist inevitably went for Electric Kool Aid Acid Test (EKAAT) – named after the Tom Wolfe book which inspired the venue and its psychedelic theme – Malt, Campari, Sweet Vermouth, Piquepoul, 9V, Acid. Okay, let’s explain. The actual cocktail is presented as a mix of the first 4 ingredients, with citric acid powder being presented in a dodgy little baggy, and a 9V Duracell battery on the side.

On the nose, the Campari and Vermouth, and the malty flavour is unmistakable. Nonetheless, without bunging in the entire packet of acid (though you are expected to ‘balance’ the drink with as much acid as you need, it really only improves in flavour with nearly the entire packet) the drink isn’t anything notable. Once you have, you lick the poles of the battery, and take a sip.

Okay. The battery-licking was meant to bring out the flavour of the Gentian in the Campari, and I don’t know if it was just me, but I found the bitterness mellower instead after licking.  In fact, I found the vermouth to stand out further, with only a hint of the Campari’s bitterness, accompanied by the malt mouthfeel. An interesting drink, but an exhausting one with the constant 9V shocks from the battery each sip.

Hi/Bye

Hi/Bye

The Barrel Aged Hi/Bye was a much more traditional drink, a Brooklyn with hibiscus: Rye, hibiscus, Bump Picon and Dry Vermouth – accompanied with a pickle, and a dried hibiscus garnish. As a Brooklyn, slightly sweeter and smoother thanks to the aging, and definitely benefitting from the hibiscus. A well-made Brooklyn in any case.

Chinese Double Smoke

Chinese Double Smoke

The Chinese Double Smoke – an excellent concept. Ilegal Mezcal, Kamm & Sons, Dry Vermouth, cloves, with lapsang souchong loose tea and a sprig of samphire to highlight contrast in flavours. Toss in the tea to smoke the drink as desired, drink, nibble on samphire. It’s rare to get a strong ginseng flavour in a drink, but the Chinese Double Smoke does it successfully, highlighted by the dryness of the vermouth. With the Mezcal smokiness of the Ilegal mingling well with the cloves and tea – you’d actually expect it to be smokier than it actually is. Of the four drinks of the night, though this was highly interactive and experimental, it was somehow lacking character.

My Beautiful Friend

My Beautiful Friend

Finally, the My Beautiful Friend – Victory Gin (what a brilliant name), Green Chartreuse, Sour fortification make a highly acidic twist on a Last Word where a slab of white chocolate plays the part of the maraschino to provide a sweet creaminess to balance the highly acidic cocktail.

You’ll notice my descriptions of the drinks are shorter than usual, because frankly, the experience was somewhat confusing. Do not get me wrong, the drinks were still great, but sometimes (not always) the addition of certain flavours or pairings are more as perks – which are fun and innovative, but don’t necessarily play a large part in the flavour of the drink. The My Beautiful Friend and Hi/Bye were winners of the night, but were also the most traditional. The Chinese Double Smoke has incredible potential if more flavoursome, and though the EKAAT is the most captivating and unique, felt like bit a chore after a short while.

Nonetheless, one appreciates the uniqueness of the approach, and it would be wrong of me to not urge the reader to visit, for the novelty of the experience and hospitality. I do look forward to coming back and trying more of the menu!

Drinks: ***
Atmosphere: *** – ****
Service: ****

Bump Caves @ The Draft House

206-208 Tower Bridge Rd
London SE1 2LL

https://www.facebook.com/TripAtBumpCaves

Winter 2014 Mega-Post!

Here it is! The obligatory Winter MEGA POST!

It’s December, and we all need something to perk us up with the obscenely cold weather London’s been having. So the Hoodooist thought, hey, what the hell, let’s cover some of the best winter themes London has to offer in bars, winter pop-ups, cocktail recipes and gift ideas!

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Bars with Festive Cocktails

For a pretty traditionally festive drink, try Thank F**k It’s Buttered by Loves Company (Click HERE for full review): A spiced hot buttered rum (butter-washed Zacapa 23) with lemon and cloves. Absolutely excellent. Tackle it on an empty stomach this, this is a heavy drink.

Got to recommend BUMP Caves (Click HERE for full review) – all done up in Christmas lights and a beautiful tree – for a Flip Out: Bourbon, Port, Amaro and Fino Sherry; slightly herbal, heavy and sweet, with a nice kick from the bourbon.

On the other hand, maybe something way less traditional? Agaveria El Nivel’s (Click HERE for full review) winter drink, the El Funibundo, let’s you choose your own tequila, with winter berries, pomegranate and hibiscus. Fruity and seasonal, with a twist.

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Gaucho Broadgate's Winter Terrace

Gaucho Broadgate’s Winter Terrace

 

Winter Pop-Ups

Another option? Take advantage of the loads of winter terraces and chalet pop ups sprouting around London this season.

The Gaucho Broadgate Winter Terrace (Click HERE for full review) is one of my favourite winter pop ups this season with a spectacularly warm outdoor area, cosy with heat lamps, hot water bottles and blankets galore. Hot Smoked Apple; Belvedere Vodka, fresh pressed apple juice, a touch of Ardbeg 10 yr, and a cinnamon rim. Hot apple and cinnamon is always a good winter warmer, the vodka giving it the right alcohol content and that warmth of the whiskey is just right to not overpower.

The Lodge d’Argent chalet pop up at the Coq d’Argent in City takes pride Hennessy Cognac cocktails, or neat Hennessy with cigar pairings. Going all out with the chalet theme makes the Lodge a great spot to relax with a complex Romeo y Julieta De-Luxe to smoke, paired with Hennessy Paradis Cognac.

The tented Nordic wonderland from last year is back! WigWamBam at the Queen of Hoxton is a much more informal chill-out zone serving a variety of hot drinks, from mulled wines to hot toddies, eventually breaking out the massive BBQ in the middle of the tent for massive meals. Get here early as it opens, before the crowd fills out the entire space.

Finally, why not pop by the Floridita Rum Chalet pop up (Click HERE for full review) for a Ski Break: rich, dark hot chocolate, with Plantation 5yr and cinnamon. Warm, slightly spicy, slightly bitter, slightly sweet, all indulgent. A very short drink in a teacup – but that’s all you need, this is a very heavy drink.

 

Floridita's Ski Break

Floridita’s Ski Break

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Cocktails at Home

But hey, it’s cold. Maybe you’d rather stay in and assault that liquor cabinet and knock something up for yourself. And let’s face it, mulling wine can be *such* a process. Cocktails this year, kids.

An easily prepared drink that the Hoodooist particularly enjoys is a Vermouth Sour and twist. You want the Antica Formula Carpano red vermouth for this – wonderfully festive with intense flavours of orange peel and marmalade, winter spices and some warming oaky woodiness. A long, dry finish of cherries, a tannic red wine, date-sugariness and bitter oranges makes it a great choice for aperitif before a big winter dinner.

Antica Formula Carpano Vermouth

Antica Formula Carpano Vermouth

The Hoodooist’s Winter Sour

Ingredients:

50 mls Antica Formula Carpano Vermouth
20 mls Fresh Lemon Juice
20 mls Simple Syrup
Garnish: Twist of Orange peel

Method:
Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice.
Shake, and strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice.
Garnish with orange peel.

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Who wants to add a little Parisian chic to their Winter? If so, check out the wonderful European Ambassador of Grand Marnier, Julien LaFond’s recipe for:

The French Artist

The French Artist

The French Artist

Ingredients:
30ml GRAND MARNIER® Cordon Rouge
15ml VSOP Cognac
15ml French Dry Vermouth
20ml Freshly squeezed Lemon Juice
20ml Homemade Redcurrant & Vanilla Syrup (or Grenadine Syrup)
20ml Egg White
Garnish: Redcurrants coated with icing sugar

Method:
Pour all ingredients into a shaker
Dry shake (Shake without ice), to create the emulsion
Add some cubed ice and shake vigorously
Double strain into a coupette glass and add the garnish

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But hey, maybe you want something surprising. The Hoodooist greatly enjoys a Scandinavian winter, and definitely a Scandinavian Christmas – and one can hardly go wrong with Tanqueray No. 10 anyway. Bring a bit of Sweden into your home with dill in Gareth Evans’ (WORLD CLASS™ UK Winner and bar manager of City Social, Click HERE for full review) Scandinavian Martini:

Dill or No Dill

Dill or No Dill

DILL OR NO DILL

Ingredients:
50ml Tanqueray No. TEN Gin
15ml Elderflower syrup
10ml Fresh lemon juice
30ml Cucumber water
2 Sprigs of dill
1 Pinch of smoked salt

Method:
Place all ingredients into a chilled shaker and shake.
Fine strain into a coupette.
Garnish with sprig of dill pegged to the glass

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And finally, for something a little weirder by Matthew Armitage of the Craft Cocktail Co. @ Grotto Outre, Shoreditch.

The Mince Pie Martini

The Mince Pie Martini

The Mince Pie Martini

Ingredients:
50ml minced meat mix infused vodka
1 teaspoon of apricot jam
1 teaspoon of Mirabelle plum jam
25ml Lemon Juice
15ml Sugar Syrup (1 part caster sugar: 1 part water)
Garnish: Lemon twist

 

Method for making Minced Meat Infused Vodka:

Place 100g minced meat mix in a sealed container with 1 bottle of vodka. Leave to infuse for a week. Strain through a sieve to remove the larger pieces and then through a coffee filter to remove the small pieces. Once it’s strained pour back into the vodka bottle. Ready when you need it.

Method for Mince Pie Martini:

Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker. Add cubed ice and shake. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

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Gift Ideas; PRESENTS, SUCH PRESENTS

T’is the season TO BE SHOWERED WITH GIFTS.

You can’t make the drinks above with a decent cocktail set, can ya? And if you’re gonna make ‘em, might as well do it with a little pizazz.

The cocktail obsessive craves a well-crafted cocktail set, and I can’t think of one that beats the Alexander & James Japanese Cocktail Set Christmas Gift Pack. This cocktail set is the epitome of luxurious bar wear and is the ultimate gift for cocktail aficionados.

A&J Japanese Cocktail Set Christmas Gift Pack

A&J Japanese Cocktail Set Christmas Gift Pack

Inside this set:

1 x Usagi Heavyweight Cobbler Shaker
1 x Natural Wood Muddler
1 x Premium Julep Strainer
1 x Copper measure
1 x Teardrop Barspoon
1 x Seamless Paddle Mixing Glass

This little piece of heaven is available from Alexander & James priced at £180.00.

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Grand Marnier Limited Edition

Grand Marnier Limited Edition

Grand Marnier’s Cognac-based orange deliciousness is a perfect winter liqueur that can be added to any hot chocolate for a bit of spice. And their limited edition Parisian ‘Marinière’ bottle celebrates the coming of Christmas with a striped Breton design worn by sailors and popularised by Coco Chanel. Modern and playful, the couture style label looks showcases the rich history of the brand through the family crest, while the blue, white and red striped ribbon that runs around the uniquely shaped bottle reinforces Grand Marnier’s home place – in the heart of France.

This annual treat is available from luxury retailer Harvey Nichols, London priced at £26.05 for a 70cl bottle.

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Kindzmarauli Wine

Kindzmarauli Wine

And finally, if wine’s more your thing – skip the predictable Marsala for something more unique. The Hoodooist’s personal choice is the sweeter, beautifully dark, purple-red Kindzmarauli wine from Georgia. Made with Saperavi grapes; this soft, rounded and sticky (and lip-colouring!) wine is an excellent pair with cheeses and rich Christmassy cakes. Notes of damson jam, berries, spice and soft tannins.

Prices vary amongst wine stores, but can be purchased at Hedonism Wines for about £13.00 for a bottle.

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WHEW. That was a long post. But winter comes with winter goodness that must be enjoyed!

So go forth and take advantage of the festive drinks at London’s bars and pop-ups, or make your own cocktails at home while you think of gifts for friends and family (or hell, yourself. It’s cold outside, you deserve it.)

Enjoy your Winter, London! And Happy AlcoHolidays!

 

Bermondsey Arts Club, Bermondsey

Type of Bar: Tiny, Basement, Speakeasy
Damage££
Ideal for: Date, Small Groups, Live Music

Now this is interesting.

The Bermondsey Arts Club has kept itself to itself since they opened about half a year ago. They’ve also developed a loyal following, especially from the area, looking for a cocktail bar closer to home (major plus for the Hoodooist in Greenwich).

Taking up residence in the public conveniences underground, on weekdays, you wouldn’t know the BAC was here. Keeping the walls, the rest of the venue has been done up in black and gold art deco revival – and on Wednesdays, bringing out their chilled jazz band. I do wish that they kept the jazz throughout the week, though – the weekend pop playlist is a bit jarring with the sexy underground surrounding.

L to R: Phra Phum, and Three Wise

L to R: Phra Phum, and Three Wise

Making one’s way there for the launch of their Winter Cocktail list, I have to say, it is a major improvement on the previous menu. And this new menu (launching Dec 5th ’14) is absolutely delightful, I fell in love with it as we tasted.

Let’s begin with the Phra Phum: House Thai Gin (ginger, chilli, garlic, spring onion), lemon, sugar, egg white, House Soy Bitters. Love. Bright, spry, lively – the first hits of spring onion and chilli, then ginger and finally the simmering of garlic and hint of soy – all make an appearance in this citrusy-spicy East Asian inspired cocktail. An excellent way to start a night, and easily one of my favourites on the list.

Another one that stood out would be a light take on a dessert drink: the Grappa’s Delight brings Chamomile Grappa, Cocchi Americano, lemon, honey, green tea gelato together with a few dried chamomile blooms dusted above. Less thick than most dessert drinks, yet still with that smooth gelato texture, this cocktail is sneaky. Not a dry drink at all, the Cocchi Americano is barely noticeable, as the gelato, honey and chamomile have their way with you. The Grappa does make a sound appearance, and I’d pick this over a dessert any day of the week.

L to R: Accidentally half drunk Grappa's Delight, and A Little R & R

L to R: Accidentally half drunk Grappa’s Delight, and A Little R & R

The next two drinks go in for darker, heavier flavours. The Hit and Mist was most enjoyable – Cider poached Apple Laphroaig, Treacle Syrup, Whisky Barrel Bitters is smoked with Apple Hickory smoke. A short, strong drink and a great winter warmer, surprisingly not as sweet as you’d expect. The characteristic nature of Laphroaig, with its already smoky, and rather medicinal flavour is necessary to balance the sweeter treacle – creating a very well balanced drink that really is made by the Hickory smoke. Without it, it would lose a lot of character (like the Lost in the Woods, by PortSide Parlour, review HERE). But this exactly the kind of drink the Hoodooist would enjoy. Seductive, balanced, warm and enveloping.

The Coupe des Garcon is an odd one – named after the fashion house Comme des Garcon – puts Port, Ramazzotti, Fine Calvados and Peychaud’s Bitters in a glass wrapped in a napkin sprayed with Comme de Garcon’s Wonderwood parfum. Now here is the odd part: the Calvados is not a strong flavour, yet plays an important part in the drink with the Port and Ramazzotti and the intriguing bit is how similar to bourbon the result is – the fruity bourbon sweetness, the woodiness of the barrels, all evoked wonderfully. I suspect, though, the woodiness is in fact olfactory. The Wonderwood parfum (Hm, pepper, sandalwood, oudh? I think.) is an excellent pairing with the cocktail, making it a multisensory experience – but don’t spray it on yourself, getting it off your clothes is impossible (or off you. Or your pillowcases. Everything into the wash). Another excellent winter drink, throwing you headfirst into nature with hints of oranges, apples and spices.

The Hit and Mist

The Hit and Mist

Finally, I probably should end mentioning two drinks that, though still good, are not up to par with the above. A Little R & R is a surprisingly uncharacteristic drink (Butter-washed raisin rum, cinnamon liqueur, lemon and cardamom bitters), and in fact, comes off a bit too citrusy. I feel avoiding the lemon a bit, and relying more on a sort of butter-washed raisin rum Old Fashioned would be a better idea. Nonetheless, we have the buttery, rich mouthfeel of the rum, with a final hint of cardamom at the end. Less lemon. Always less lemon.

Lastly, the Three Wise is in fact what I started with. I was intrigued by the strangeness of the ingredients: Taylor’s 10yr Port, Brokers Gin, Gold/Frankincense/Myrrh Bitters. Yup. Served in a Japanese wooden cube (also used by the Artesian for a Japanese styled drink in a previous menu) – it can be uncomfortable to drink from, especially with that little singed stick of incense prodding your face. On one hand, a good aperitif with intense dryness – on the other hand, a bit confusing. I might enjoy it more with less gin, since it drowns out the barely noticeable figs in the port, which would be fantastically both thematically and in regard to taste. The frankincense and myrrh is certainly a nice addition – as for the gold, well. Perhaps gold leaf would be a better garnish than the incense. This drink appeals more to my intellect than my tastebuds.

The Aged Old Negronis

The Aged Old Negronis

Service at the bar is wonderful (Aged Negronis bottled to take home! Taste delicious and rounded, well-balanced). Milo (who runs a cocktail Youtube channel, Caffe Corretto), Jake and Adam are excellent company. On weekends though, the tables can get very crowded and getting attention/waiting for drinks can get a bit tiring – but one expects that on crowded nights. You will see the Hoodooist and friends at the bar, getting tanked on Hit and Mists on Wednesdays, I think.

In summary: the new menu at the Bermondsey Arts Club is formidable, original, and wonderful. Favouring the Hoodooist’s preferred style of short, but intense, these drinks are quickly taking this bar to one of my more favoured hang outs. With excellent design and atmosphere, and fun service – you’ll see me here often (at least, as often as I can. I have two bars a week to review for you people, you know.)

A major thanks to Jamie Pinkham and team for an excellent night out!

Drinks: *****
Atmosphere: ****
Service: ****

Bermondsey Arts Club

102A Tower Bridge Road,
London SE1 4TP

http://bermondseyartsclub.co.uk/

Bar Termini, Soho

Type of Bar: Tiny, Cafe, Italian
Damage£
Ideal for: Date, Small Groups, Coffee, Aperitifs

News about Bar Termini is spreading like wild fire. Probably because Marco Arrigo, and Tony Conigliaro (of ZTH (Click HERE) and 69 Colebrooke (Click HERE) fame) decided to open it without announcement or event – it retained a mystery that everyone wants in on.

Term pic

And what it is, is probably my next favourite study spot in Soho. A teeny tiny room with bar next door to the much more demanding-of-attention, La Bodega Negra, Bar Termini provides a pale blue, vintage Italian haven for coffee and cocktail fans. Inspired by Arrigo’s introduction of Illy coffee to London, and the many coffee shops that serve it in Soho, Termini serves up Italian classics in a chilled out space.

Firstly with coffee, true it a tiny bit pricier than your usual – espressos at 3 pounds, bicherins at 4 – they still impress. I honestly wasn’t expecting to enjoy Illy coffee as much as I enjoyed it here at Termini. With sides of pastries and mini-paninis, what’s not to love?

The Negroni Rosato

The Negroni Rosato

‘Mini’ might be a useful term here – the Negronis are positively miniscule, yet are incredible.

Three Negronis are presented: the Classico, Rosato, and Superiore. Each bottled (in their distinctive custom Art Deco bottles!) in advance, aged for up to three months – provide intense flavours, and surprisingly calm on the Campari (a result of aging).

The Classico provides a smooth Negroni experience, the Rosato and Superiore are infused with further ingredients:

The Superiore, my preferred of the three, is infused with pink peppercorns, to add a slight spiciness to it. It’s a bit subtle, and I certainly would prefer a more intense infusion, but spectacular as a Negroni – not too dry or sweet, subtle on the Campari, good roundedness from the vermouth. Excellent.

The Rosato can split the table depending on your appreciation of sweet drinks. Infused with rosebuds and rose water, this deep red Negroni brings forward a strong – but not sickly – rose to the cocktail. An interesting choice, rose and Negronis, but one that works. A bit sweet for me, but a wonderful drink overall – in this case, the small serving seems rational with the intense flavour.

The Marsala Martini

The Marsala Martini

The Marsala Martini: Beefeater gin, dry vermouth, marsala dolce and almond bitters, with an almond garnish stored in Champagne vinegar, salt and sugar. Oh my, this is strong. On first sip: a quintessential dry, dry Martini. Then the marsala dolce seeps in, leaving an empty ground for the almond bitters to shine. What a fantastic aperitif. The serving was a perfect size, took a while to take this one down. And the almond at the end? Sweet-sour, balsamic. An excellent twist on a Martini, served with crisp parmesan (as any marsala should).

Another exciting drink on the menu would be the Terroir, described as ‘Distillates of flint, clay and lichen’. Right. I was initially cautious, but I have always rested my faith in Tony, so went straight for it and was delighted by what I got. The Terroir is prepared by distilling the ‘grape’ flavours out of wine, leaving only the flavours presented by the terroir where the vines grew. However it is prepared, one must approach it like a new spirit unto itself. Beginning with a sourness at the back of the jaw, it moves forward with a mineral and surprisingly floral flavour – very reminiscent of sake. This is a drink I must recommend, especially for its uniqueness.

The custom Rosata bottle. Gorgeous.

The custom Rosata bottle. Gorgeous.

On a much more familiar note: A Bellini (Prosecco, peach puree, almond blossom) prepared so fresh, that even my normally bubbly-avoiding self enjoyed it. Finally, a good old Aperol Spritz (Beefeater gin, Aperol, prosecco) and rhubarb cordial. Hm, here is a drink I didn’t quite take to. Primarily because of the overpowering rhubarb cordial.

Service is excellent, no complaints. Very approachable, conversational staff dressed immaculately, all screaming Conigliaro’s personal specifications in uniform design.

The Bicherin

The Bicherin

In short, excellent list of cocktails for excellent prices. If any question regarding price can be raised, it would be the size of some of the cocktails (The Negronis and Bellini). In which case, my finger hovers over deciding the score regarding drinks. But the rest of the cocktails are sized accurately regarding their flavours. With excellent service, design, and attention to detail, Bar Termini is certainly a new spot in London that must be seen!

Drinks: **** – *****
Atmosphere: ***
Service: ****

Bar Termini

7 Old Compton Street, Soho
London W1D 5JE.

http://www.bar-termini.com/