The cocktail comeback: Mixologists looking local for ingredients

First there was the craft beer movement, followed swiftly by craft spirits. Now all eyes are on mixologists and cocktails, says Leslie Williams.
The cocktail comeback: Mixologists looking local for ingredients

You have probably noticed by now that cocktails have been having a bit of a renaissance over the last ten years.

Of course cocktails never actually went out of fashion, but I can’t remember the last time I went to a new restaurant and was not presented with a shiny new cocktail list (and sometimes an artificially aged one).

Even the humble gin and tonic has had a makeover and it is rare now that you are not offered a choice of tonics as well as a choice of gins. Gins like Blackwater No 5, made in Cappoquin, and Gunpowder Gin from Leitrim, in its attractive blue bottle, now take pride of place beside Hendricks and Bombay Saphire.

Irish-made Poachers Tonic sits alongside Fever Tree, Schwepps and Fentimans.

Barmen have become ‘mixologists’ and are working with chefs matching food and cocktails — for example in Urchin in Dublin and Cask in Cork. The speakeasy has returned in spirit with bars like VCC (Vintage Cocktail Club) in Temple Bar, hidden behind a nondescript black door; the Liquor Rooms is down a dingy stairs below the Clarence Hotel and filled with mis-matched furniture and nooks and crannies to hide if it gets raided.

Following the financial crash we all took a hard look at where our food was coming from and this led to an upsurge in home cooking, food blogs, baking (The Great British Bake-Off), allotments and GIY (grow-it-yourself), and of course foraging.

In the drinks world the craft beer movement began and was followed swiftly by craft spirits so it makes sense that cocktails would mirror this trend.

Mixologists these days make their own syrups and infusions. Creativity is the order of the day.

In Urchin on Stephen’s Green — a seafood tapas bar that looks like a beach hut — the chef left desserts in the hands of mixologist Bhim Santoo. You need to taste his Ferrero Rocher or Black Forest gateau cocktails (both are delicious!).

So what of the future? Well one place to find out is at Ballymaloe Litfest on May 19-21 when Ally Kelsey of SuperLyan (formerly WhiteLyan) in Hoxton, London, and Andy Ferreira of Cask on MacCurtain St, Cork, will be giving a tasting and talk on new-wave cocktails entitled Mixing It Up.

Both Andy and Ally are hoping to change the way we think about our drinks by introducing sustainability and the local environment into their cocktails.

Andy says: “In Cask I want to use local wherever I can — ‘farm to glass’, if possible — and I’m changing our cocktail menu every eight weeks to keep our cocktail menu as seasonal as our food.

“Think of the containers of lemons and limes we import when we could be using local ingredients like honeysuckle, mint, and lemon verbena. Why not use a fruit vinegar or a tincture instead of imported citrus? Why not add salt or sweetness using different seaweeds?”

In Hoxton, SuperLyan Bar uses spirits specially blended in 10-litre jerrycans to cut down on bottle recycling. They sous-vide, ferment, poach, and pound to extract flavours from native ingredients which are mixed with Scottish or English spirits.

“Botanist gin made from botanicals found only on Islay is my current favourite,” says Kelsey.

“Recently I’ve been making a kind of Martini by mixing it with a syrup made from the nasty invasive Japanese knotwood weed which tastes like rhubarb.”

The pair have infectious enthusiasm for their craft and believe that we need to keep things as close to home as possible without sacrificing flavour or artistry.

So now that you have mastered baking, growing, farming and foraging it is time to get as creative with your cocktails.

Mixing It Up with Andy Ferreira and Ally Kelsey is on Saturday, May 20, at 8pm in the Drinks Theatre at Ballymaloe Litfest

Inside the bar that claims to have the world’s largest collection of gin. 

Cocktail recipes

These recipes include home-made ingredients but don’t be put off. Substitute with other ingredients and get creative. See ‘resources’ below.

Douglas fizz

50ml Botanist gin

20ml Grapefruit and douglas fir sherbet*

10ml Lemon Top with soda. Method: Chill a highball glass and build in glass. Garnish: Grapefruit wedge

Grapefruit and douglas fir sherbet*

5 x pink grapefruit

400g sugar

40g douglas fir needles

Zest the peel of the five grapefruit into a bowl containing the sugar using a microplane or fine grater, along with finely chopped douglas fir needles. Stir to ensure even distribution of the zest with the sugar.

Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave overnight. Juice the grapefruits and reserve 400g of the juice in a bottle in the fridge for the next day.

The next morning, add the grapefruit juice to the sugar and zest. Stir well until the sugar has completely dissolved. Then strain to remove the zest. Bottle and refrigerate.

Cask Cocktail No 1 (so new it doesn’t yet have a name)

50ml Blackwater Juniper

25ml Woodruff syrup (available online)

20ml pear vinegar. Method: Shake all ingredients in a shaker and serve in your favourite glass.

Garnish with Woodruff flower.

Cask Cocktail 2:

35ml of Irish whiskey

35ml rhubarb and sweet sicily cordial

10ml lemon juice

dash of aromatic bitters

150ml Johnny fall down

Apple cider Method: Stir all ingredients and serve in a beer glass.

Garnish with a rhubarb stick and a sweet sicily leaf.


Wild Irish Foragers America Village

Any cocktail ingredient you can imagine is available somewhere on the internet if you are not inclined to go foraging. These two Irish producers make syrups, tinctures and shrubs (an acidulated fruit syrup) from wild ingredients that work brilliantly in cocktails.

Both sell online and can be found in shops such as The Good Food Shop in the English Market, Cork, Sheridans Cheesemongers Galway and Urru Culinary Store, Bandon.

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