Grow Your Own

Hi All

When I heard that Anistatia and Jared at Mixellany were going to be talking Slow Drinks at the Imbibe show, I jumped at the chance to join them. I will be there on the 13th to talk organic and homegrown. In the meantime, I’d thought I’d prepare a little something for readers here. Sorry I’ve been absent. Lots of training work at the bar school and a new role as ambassador for Brockmans Gin has kept me busy.

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How does your garden grow?

Herbs, fruits, berries etc are the most common ingredients used in the production of cocktails and mixed drinks. Yet they are the most difficult to control in terms of quality, aesthetic, taste and price. Citrus fruits often arrive into bars with signs of blight, mould and various other imperfections. Berries that are squashed. Dried up Pineapples. Herbs already blackened. The price of a punnet of blackberries can vary from 1.50 to 3.00. These perishable items are vital to quality drinks yet a challenge for even the most rigorous and exacting bar managers. It is on the back of this premise that one drinks giant has spent serious money on researching and launching another range of pre mix cocktails, designed to help out the recession struck home cocktail enthusiast. It’s true, fruit can be expensive and needs to be carefully controlled, but there are ways to ease the pressure whilst delivering a real point of interest for your menu.

As the country shifts its focus to quality, organic and locally sourced ingredients, the pressure to deliver this in the service and hospitality industry is moreso than ever. But why so difficult a task…? Working with fruit suppliers has always been a part of this trade, from the local grocer to the food wholesaler.

When we look at cocktail books of times gone by, the appearance of fruit is common to all and essential, though there are few fresh ingredients which are consistent.  As is still the norm, bars use a staple of citrus fruits, mint and berries to create their drinks, with extras dotted around. In the age of the supermarket, it is possible to buy all manner of produce from all over the world. Exotic fruits, cheaper spices and ingredients whose shelf life has been extended. The bartenders larder has increased in size and everyone is looking for the newest flavour.

Should it be the exotic that defines a cocktails remarkability? I think most people here would argue, no. As bartenders prepare more infusions, syrups, tinctures, home made ingredients. The arts of the past are being resurrected.  Old cocktail books abound with recipes not only for cocktails, but also distillations, syrups, essences and waters. The reason…? it would be nigh on impossible to keep the raw fruits or herbs for certain flavours the whole year around. It is part of alcohols heritage as a preservative that we should try to hold on to the flavours and benefits of fresh produce.

Elixirs, Liqueurs and the modern Pimms Cup extol this virtue. Chartreuse, Benedictine, Bitters, Fragoli, Chamberyzette Vermouth, Absinthe. All of these hold a common idea, the use of and preservation of, fresh ingredients and an extension of their normal shelf life. Dressing these up with seasonal fruits of the time can change how they are perceived. You can use cloves, orange and rosemary with Benedictine in November but then bring out something completely different in the summer using cucumber, mint and lavender.

It is difficult to grow enough fruits and herbs to supply a cocktail bar, and even more difficult to find a decent sized allotment in Soho for less than 1/4 million. My point is that, the ability to do this functionally is almost impossible but a place to start is at home, or in a window box and grow something. Even if it’s a garnish, for one drink, for a month. It’s a start.

I’d like to mention the work done by Joe McCanta over at SAF in Shoreditch.  An abundance of homemade syrups and infusions make up the modest organic menu. Whilst in the courtyard out the back, there is a domestic greenhouse (which is also a functioning bar) surrounded by window boxes, a grape vine, a lime tree….all with the POTENTIAL to be used, just when they are at their best. How is this functional…? A nursery off site which can feed the bar once it has been used up. They are able to use ingredients right from the soil, which gives everything a remarkable freshness and sense of vitality.

They have been kind enough to allow me access to their garden to prepare a drink I’ve been making for Brockmans Gin. This drink is a classic fruit cup style drink, all the rage right now at Wimbledon with Pimms. It is one of the most versatile for demonstrating seasonality and how garnish can alter flavour.

Brock’s Summer Cup

25ml Brockmans

25ml Martini Rosso

5ml Cointreau

Splash Orange Flower Water

Top with ginger ale

Garnissh glass with borage leaves, nasturtium, alpine strawberries, lemon slices.

NB Whilst preparing this article, I learned that Fyffes (no.1 fruit importer in Europe and of Banana fame) took over Hudson grocers in London in the latter half of the 19th century. It turns out that Escoffier (the chef who changed English restaurants and dining, whilst inventing the peach melba) and Carlton Ritz (one time manager at the Savoy then namesake of Ritz Carlton Hotel, now New Zealand House) were sacked for a number of reasons, one of them being a commission pay off by Hudson grocers to make sure that they were main fruit supplier for the hotel! Check out the article below.



1 Response to “Grow Your Own”

  1. 1 Ed
    July 7, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    that’s a great article from the guardian archive!

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