29 August 2011
shaken or stirred
Denizen’s bon vivant educates us on some better ways to enjoy the copious world of booze.
As a result of all these new fangled cookery programmes, nowadays it seems we need to go and procure hand-tickled pork belly and British black-headed gull’s eggs before we think we can make a simple bacon and egg sandwich. Sadly, it appears that bartenders have gone the same way. I can’t help but chuckle to myself when I see some nincompoop infusing his vodkas with Brazilian chilli and Chinese mountain flowers. Drinks are not supposed to be so complex that you need a degree in botany to work out what’s going on. They should be simple, tasty, and quite simply, make you want to have another one.
It’s important that you forget everything you know up until this point. Gin and tonics should not be served in a short glass, and a lime wedge should not be squeezed and then thrown into your drink. (That lime has been handled by so many people, and stored in so many different unknown places by the time it reaches your drink, that it’s impossible to say how many germs it’s covered in.)
From here on in, it’s essential that you start to pay attention to the products that you’re actually consuming. Abhorred big brands would have you believe that their products are the best – paying bars, supermarkets, and sadly liquor stores stupid amounts of money to make sure that the shelves and fridges are stocked primarily with their beers, spirits and wines. If you want to be on the winning team you must learn to loath them. The best stuff is never advertised. There are products for people that know; and then there are products for people who know better.
Let’s use vodka as an archetype. Smirnoff vodka was founded in Moscow in the 1860’s, but it’s now owned by global brand giant Diageo who market the pants off of it and throw obscene money at making sure it’s what’s poured into your glass when you ask for a vodka and coke in as many pubs, clubs, bars and hotels as humanly possible. But does that mean it’s a good product? In short, no it doesn’t. Ever heard of Jewel of Russia, Legend of Kremlin, Beluga Gold Line, Ivan The Terrible, Moskovskaya, Kauffman, Putinka or Krepkaya? I strongly doubt it; yet these are authentic Russian vodkas that the Russians themselves enjoy and are otherwise reserved only for those people who really know their stuff.
Just because you see a product behind a bar, it in no way affirms that it’s of a high pedigree. Secondly, the key to making and enjoying wicked drinks is to use the finest quality ingredients and to keep it simple.
Why should you care? Well, for a start I believe it would be a self-evident truth to say that if you were to eat crisps, cakes, sweets, fried chicken and McDonalds all the time you would eventually become both fat and ill. The more experience you gain in life the more it becomes obvious that you need to find equilibrium. If you eat well and conserve a healthy balanced diet you’re going to look and feel better, it’s a given. With drinks it’s the same. If you throw loads of nasty, sugary drinks, mixed with cheap and badly made booze it’s not going to end well. Simply do the maths; how often do you enjoy a few drinks? The average Joe imbibes round about four to five times a week, add this up over the year and it works out at around 250 sessions per annum. Surely if we all do something that frequently then it’s important to pay attention to how we do it.
Ten months ago I was in London making drinks for people like Kate Moss and Giorgio Armani and they totally get it. Kate’s had more Martinis than you’ve had hot dinners and she would never drink filthy booze. Eight months later I find myself opening a brand new hotel bar in Queenstown serving a veritable who’s who of local society, and these guys seemingly didn’t get it at all at first. After talking to people and turning them on to both new products and new ways of thinking they now get it just like Kate and Giorgio do. And what’s more they love it. Now the bar is an esoteric hot spot that people go to for the delicious drinks and urbane atmosphere, and I guess I’m kind of proud of that. You see the scene here is roughly seven years behind the UK market. The sad thing is that it needn’t be. It’s all down to education.
This leads us nicely onto the story of a Kiwi dame who once told me about how she hates it when her husband drinks Wray & Nephew’s Coruba rum; she says it makes him get angry and aggressive. She asks me to come round and do their home bar for them. I work the magic and hey presto, problem solved. Two weeks later she calls me up and can’t thank me enough. Her husband now drinks the Venezuelan titan Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva and/or the sublime St Nicholas Abbey. He no longer gets angry, only happy and sentimental, and this is one of the differences that drinking a top quality, yet far less conspicuous product has made to their lives. Crazy? Not really, I’m like an alcoholic A-Team: A soldier of boozy fortune if you will. So if you have a problem, if no one else can help, you can find me. Maybe you can hire…The Bray Heather.