The art of the cocktail

Melissa Wear takes a trip to Newcastle's 'The Botanist', in hope to discover what puts beauty in the taste and the appearance of a mixture of our favourite liquids.

19th October 2015

Melissa Wear interviews Jordan Fish, bartender at The Botanist on whether the “best looking bar in England” serves the best looking drinks.

The most satisfying response to a drink? ‘The Strawberry and Cucumber Breeze’ wins the popularity contest every time. It was one of the original survivors still on a menu. It’s the all-favourite-strawberry that catches the intoxicated menu reader. For some insectile reason, people are attracted to red.

In comparison - ‘The Botanist’, their signature drink. Virtually transparent, it is a blend of the grey of jasmine, a faint yellow of elderflower and clear rum and vodka add no hue to the palette. Yet, it is the most beautiful drink. On appearance, Jordan describes this stony concoction as “a version of magic”. It is the Le Corbusier’s Barbican of the menu.

"Scent and flavour are accentuated by the herbs 'the botanist' is unique for"

Orange zest in popularly added in the cocktail world for pure aesthetic. It adds no flavour value but the contrast of colour is simply arresting. But in some cases, like the Strawberry and Cucumber Breeze, the garnish sign posts the contents.

Beyond colour identity (and a poor one at that; “I’ll have that red one, please”), quality of ingredients is integral to what makes a cocktail excellent. Scent and flavour are accentuated by the herbs The Botanist is unique for. For example, Rosemary and sage are not standard ingredients in the cocktail scene.

How does this course of individuality prove for the average bartender? In a bar where staff undergo an intensive 3 weeks of training to ensure that Cherry and Sage Sling served in Birmingham is identical to the one served in Newcastle, is the creativity of mixology lost? ‘The Botanist’ cocktail has been sold 20,000 times this year so it is no wonder that there is some behind-the-bar preference for making the cocktails hiding in the corners of the menu. It could be speculated that repetition steals identity.

For such strict specifications, I am certain some originality is yearned for. It is lucky then that the development of recipes suggested by the Bar Guru at Head Office to the staff on the bar.

"Ice is key; crushed ice doesn't melt as fast as cubed"

The performance of making a cocktail is an art. However, there isn’t enough space for ‘flare’ in The Botanist, particularly on peak nights. Therefore, speed, flavour and efficiency is prioritised. In the industry, flaring is known to excite younger bartenders. A decade in, flavour triumphs.

Once the cocktail is built, presentation is fundamental. The glasses described as “bog-standard” are sculptures to me – a sensory experience as you handle your poison. Ice is key; crushed ice doesn’t melt as fast as cubed and even where cubed ice is used, it is topped with a “crushed cap” which offers a better finish and holds the garnish better. The garnishes are outrageous: “big is best”, the cucumber is like a surf board in the glass. What a way to leave an impression on the girl who ordered “the red one”.

These cocktails have inspired me to make my own at home - why not be more experimental with your drinks? As long as you don’t mix too many different liquids!

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