As always, it’s been a while since the last one, however to continue on with our Conversations With… series we caught up with cocktail enthusiast Mark Gill, co-founder of the London Cocktail Society ahead of this year’s London Cocktail Week to find out some of his thoughts on the London scene and what was tickling his fancy.
Hello, let jump straight in! Along with Emma (Gin Monkey) and Kate (London Cocktail Guide), you founded London Cocktail Society. What is it all about?
Hello – The LCS was set up as a way for people who are interested in spirits and cocktails to meet like-minded people, by organising social gatherings in cocktail bars each month. We still primarily think of ourselves as a social society but the huge level of interest has meant we have been able to approach brands and bars to put on bespoke events for our members.
It seems like a while ago now, but it wasn’t actually that long since it got started – When did it all begin and how did it come about?
Emma, Kate and I first ‘met’ each other through Twitter and when we finally managed to introduce ourselves face to face we discovered a common theme in our social lives, in that we enjoyed visiting London’s amazing cocktail bars, but many of our friends did not share our interest. We figured that if we had this ‘problem’ then there were probably others who did too. We used twitter to see how much interest there would be and it turned out to be beyond anything we could imagine. We had our first event at 69 Colebrooke Row in September 2010 and it has grown from there.
We remember that one – Tony C and the lab upstairs was a brilliant way to start it all off! There have been other great meetings and events so far – what’s coming up next for LCS members?
Thank you! Our events can vary in size, venue and ‘type’ but they are always great fun. We have a wonderful core of members that come along to most things, but it is great to see new faces at every meeting and it is this that keeps the society fresh and interesting as the social element is so important. We are celebrating our first birthday in September, then for October we have teamed up with London Cocktail Week to offer some special deals to our members. After that there is loads in the pipeline but if I told you I’d have to drown you in gin!
We’re sure we’d survive… sounds like something we do on a Saturday night! Talking of London Cocktail Week and being able to approach brands, Hendrick’s Gin are creating an umbrella emporium and Tanqueray are hosting a Distiller’s Dinner – has anything caught your eye (bar/brand wise) this year?
London Cocktail Week looks to be set for a great second year. I’m off to the Tanqueray dinner myself but my other top tips would be the Whisky Show run by the Whisky Exchange, Kammerling’s Tea and Talk at the Zetter Townhouse, cocktails and cupcakes at the Sipsmith distillery and ‘The Doctor Will See You Now’ at Callooh Callay. They all are being run by fantastic bars/brands and I only wish I could get to them all! I also quite like the idea of the tequila tweet off at La Perla with Dan Priseman of Bitters and Twisted fame, it’s great to see how social media can add an interesting twist to these sorts of events.
Very true, it’s nice to see social media being adopted by some bars and really being harnessed, in turn, adding more dimensions onto events. London Cocktail Week aside – we like the classic drinks done well, and love going for a cheeky evening tipple. There’s something about an expertly made Negroni, Martinez or Bramble that just seems to be unbeatable. As someone who goes out to bars and knows some of the teams behind the stick – who’s getting it right and where do you recommend?
We love visiting all sorts of places with the London Cocktail Society and have had some great events at all manner of different bars over the year. On a personal level Callooh Callay, 69 Colebrooke Row, the Zetter Townhouse and Mark’s Bar at Hix all stand out for offering fantastic cocktails served by amazing staff. They are all totally different but that’s the great thing about the London cocktail scene, there is something for everyone.
All very different indeed! Good selection though, it’s always quite difficult to be categorical as it’s mood specific. Let’s go one tougher – what’s your current favourite gin cocktail and who’s serving it best?
I’ve got a bit of thing for herbal cocktails at the moment so I’m loving the Last Word which combines gin, green chartreuse, maraschino liqueur and lime juice in equal parts. It’s a cocktail I tend to make at home though so my favourite when I’m in a bar has to be a martini. Duke’s bar serves the most amazing Martini’s using frozen gin poured straight into a frozen glass that has been spritzed with vermouth. They serve it table side and I just love the theatre that goes with it. I’m also loving the Black Cat’s Martini served at the Whistling Shop at the moment. It’s a great example of how modern techniques can be used to offer a unique twist on a classic drink. The gin is redistilled with cream and so the drink is perfectly clear like any ‘normal’ martini but there is a wonderful creamy taste that is just delicious!
These are all established cocktail bars so there’s a certain expectancy for them to be good but how do you feel about the ongoing Class Magazine Vs Bar Life “pubs shouldn’t serve cocktails because they’ll be rubbish and put people off” debate? Both have a point. (article here)
I’ve read both articles with interest and agree that both have some valid points. For me the issue is not about whether pubs should serve cocktails or not, but instead it is about the quality of those cocktails. Mixing cocktails requires a lot more skill than pouring pints or glasses of wine and this requires anywhere that serves them to invest in training their staff to make sure they are well made. The training also needs to be done by someone who knows what they are doing! Unfortunately this is often not the case in pubs (and restaurants as well for that matter) and the result is often not pretty. There is no reason why pubs can’t or shouldn’t serve cocktails but it needs a change in mindset of the owners to ensure they are well made. Personally I look forward to the day that I can walk into my local boozer and order a well-made martini but I think I might have a while to wait!
For us, there are parallels to be drawn with easy spirit mixes like G&T’s – it is easy to forget that a while ago, G&T’s in pubs were usually mediocre affairs and sometimes made with undrinkable flat tonic out a gun, dried up lemon and nail varnish gin… Now it’s totally changed and the majority will have a choice between a couple of gins and tonic out of a bottle. Things change and it takes a while before good practice makes it all the way down to the smaller places. Incidentally, what’s your favourite G&T combo?
That is a good example of where consumer demand has driven a change in the industry and it’s true that you can now get a decent G&T in a lot more places than you could just a few years ago. A good G&T is one of my favourite drinks but I don’t think I have a favourite combo because each gin is so unique in flavour that it totally depends on my mood. Having said that there are probably two that I drink often. For the perfect classic G&T I would reach for Sipsmith gin and Fever Tree tonic in a 3:1 ratio with a wedge of lime to garnish. A recent discovery though has been Gin Mare with 1724 tonic. The Mediterranean flavours of rosemary, thyme, basil and olive in the Gin Mare are just sublime and are totally different to anything out there in the market. I make mine with a 4:1 ratio and garnish with a bruised basil leave, delicious!
Both Sipsmith and Gin Mare seem to be converting quite a lot of people to their cause – they’re really on the up right now. The two subjects bring us around to cocktail making at home… Many people seem to be put off doing it as it can be (perceived) as a bit of a faff, and some believe they don’t have the skills or the confidence to try it out so find it easier to just have a G&T. Have you got any advice for those looking to make a good gin cocktail at home?
Yes, I think there are a lot of perceived barriers that stop people from making cocktails at home. Gin is a great spirit to start with as it is so versatile and there are some great gins that are easily available at a competitive price too. The best piece of advice is to just give it a go! Some drinks will turn out terrible but thats part of the learning process and it won’t be long before you identify what styles and flavours you like, and develop some of the basic skills to put them together. I like to use the Diffords website as it allows me to search for cocktail recipes by ingredient and so can be helpful for those with a limited selection at home. Finally, it is really important to use ‘good’ ice, and plenty of it. Invest in some good size ice trays to make ice at home and don’t skimp on the number of cubes when shaking or stirring.
Nice advice and couldn’t agree more on the ice. Finally for all those on the sofa at home feeling inspired to have a go but not quite sure what to do – which cocktail do you recommend they make?
That’s a tricky one as it depends so much on personal tastes, that one persons dream cocktail is another’s nightmare. If I had to choose one though it would be the Negroni. Because it is stirred rather than shaken, it can be made by absolutely everyone and the ingredients are easily available. It also offers a good lesson in balancing flavours. Although the classic recipe calls for equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari, the ratios can be altered to suit individual taste. If you’re not a fan of bitter flavours for example then the amount of Campari can be reduced (or even substitued for Aperol) etc. There is something about the three ingredients that is a match made in heaven and I would go so far as to say it is (almost) foolproof!
Thanks so much for talking to us and sharing some insight into the cocktail world! To see more drinks, recipes and other thoughts from Mark, check out thecocktailgeek.com. If you want to meet others enjoying a cocktail or two, sign up to the London Cocktail Society mailing list and lastly, if you want to get involved but don’t want to leave home… be sure to join in on Twitter as Mark shares some tips and inspiration for the last drink of the week each Sunday.