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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Atmosphere: *** – ****
Bump Caves @ The Draft House
206-208 Tower Bridge Rd
London SE1 2LL