It is commonly recognised that 21st Century tastes are changing and that in a world powered by mass-production, people are increasingly putting more value on ‘buying local’ and supporting those producers who hand craft their goods rather than import them. Perhaps because of the positive associations with the words ‘artisan’ and ‘craft’, they are used more and more to sell products to discerning consumers. We should probably, therefore, explain what we mean when we talk about craft cocktails.
For us, at least, the term ‘craft cocktails’ refers to those cocktails that are handmade by mixologists who really care about their work. A far cry from the 2-4-1 mojitos you might find on the High Street, these drinks are made to be savoured responsibly. As with great cooking, the bartender works to find the right mix of ingredients to create a well-considered drink that blends flavours and, at times, textures to give their customer a drink that is perfectly balanced and delicious to taste. Often the ingredients used are ‘home made’ by the bartender and are fanciful or a challenge to the senses. Thought is given to garnishes, be they simple or elaborate.
These drinks are presented as a complete package to tantalise the senses.
One man who is consistently pushing the boundaries is Richard Woods, Head of Spirit & Cocktail Development at Samba Brands Management, the company which owns and runs London hot spots, Sushi Samba and Duck & Waffle. If you’ve been following us on Twitter or reading our blog, then you’ll know that we’re huge fans of Duck and Waffle. Not only are the food and views phenomenal, the cocktails are arguably the best you’ll find in London.
Richard Woods clearly has a passion for mixed drinks. The few times we’ve had the pleasure to talk to him about his work, he’s exuded an excitement for his drinks that we’ve not seen elsewhere. Here is a man who throws his all into developing cutting edge cocktail menus, using all manner of sophisticated ingredients, some of which he creates himself in his own personal spirits “lab”. This passion has rubbed off on his team too, who speak of him and his work with such respect and enthusiasm that it even made us want to offer to do voluntary work with them as bar backs.
But what makes his drinks so special? While there are other bars doing great things in the capital, there is an unparalleled sophistication and classy complexity to the drinks on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower. There are no theatrics but rather displays of creativity, such as with the Easter Eggs containing coffee-washed Bacardi, hay-infused white chocolate ‘milk’ and black truffle – served in egg shells. Despite the playfulness of the serve, the emphasis here is on quality ingredients and imaginative flavours.
If, like me, you enjoy a dirty martini, you may want to try your taste buds at this creation: the Filthy Martini. I’ve had a filthy martini before, on board the QM2, which was basically a dirty martini with olives stuffed with blue cheese. But this version takes filthy to a whole new level. This is pure filth. Richard Woods has designed three elements to create this beast: a wholegrain mustard distillate, a Branston pickle distillate, and a vermouth, dripped over crushed oyster shells to take on their minerality. The spirits are then combined with Bombay Sapphire Gin and served over a fresh oyster from Dan Doherty‘s kitchen.
This is by no means a drink for the faint-hearted; this drink is a challenge. You’ll need to hold onto your seat when you take your first sip. There is a punch of mustard, followed by the warming flavour of pickle and then a more neutral, mineral finish. It’s like sitting on a Big Dipper and with every sip there’s another roar round the track. But with a few sips, you become accustomed to the heat and powerful flavours. And then the prize. The fresh oyster with all its refreshing taste of the sea.
But if this gastronomic adventure doesn’t appeal then don’t let this put you off. There are myriad cocktails to choose from that are a lot easier to drink. Almost too easy. For example, the Nutella Negroni, a seasonal offering that only appears now and again, we could happily drink this beauty all day, every day. Richard Woods, has made a Nutella distillate which he combines with vermouth and Campari to create a beautifully smooth and chocolatey drink for grown-ups. Served in a Nutella jar, the sweet hazelnut and chocolate flavours are balanced by the herbal vermouth and the touch of bitterness from the Campari. This cocktail was nothing short of heavenly, a sensation heightened by the fact you’re sipping it looking down on London’s skyline.
These are just two of Richard Woods’ incredible creations but whatever your taste, there will be something for you on his menu: from Red Pepper Bellinis, with red pepper and blood orange, to Mind Your Peas & Qs, a gloriously refreshing pea-infused gin cocktail. We can assure you that once you’ve tried these expertly-crafted cocktails, you won’t look at a mixed drink in the same way again.
Read more about our experience of dining at Duck and Waffle here.