Mixing. Muddling. Shaking. Stirring. Straining. Pouring. Crushing. Bruising. Aromatising. Outside, the streets of Shoreditch were still drowsy with Saturday morning sleep. Inside98 Curtain Road, we were imbibing the vernacular of cocktail mixing along with two hours of hard drinking. The venue was cool: a cross between a French perfumerie and a Harley Street clinic. Angled benches set up as bars sidled across a sticky wooden floor; luxurious chairs and an upholstered chaise edged the room.
Adam, the bar tender, in skinny jeans slouched over his hips and surfer hair flowing onto his tight black shirt, set up shop on his bench at the front of the room. The rest of us huddled and shuffled in an uncomfortable, suspended silence. Once the spirits started flowing, with a welcome drink of rum, ginger beer, angostura bitters and lime, the camaraderie began to build and any awkwardness was soon dissolved by alcohol.
I shared a bar with Ruth and Jim from Stoke Newington, who told me they were following our cocktail extravaganza with a few hours of free ice cream at the Ben & Jerry’s festival in Clapham. Following Adam’s practical demonstration, which we all sampled as a benchmark to emulate, we started off timidly with our first creation. It was a French martini consisting of vodka,Chambord, raspberries and pineapple juice, served in a coupe glass. I must say I wasn’t especially keen on the expert version and mine was even worse, as I managed to use apple juice instead of pineapple.
We had a hard taskmaster in Adam. He prowled among the mixing stations, shouting out our errors, poking straws in and pronouncing most of our efforts ‘rubbish’. Our better attempts were ‘not too disgusting’, with the ultimate accolade being ‘not bad’. Our second drink was a mint julep, unanimously the best drink of the day: icy cold, sour, with a refreshing infusion of mint. The laidback taste track to a hot summer. A daiquiri was next – and apparently this drink wasn’t invented inCuba, but on British naval ships, as a way of eking out the crew’s rum ration. Then came a lethal mai tai, which we served in authentic pottery tiki mugs. Vast quantities of rum, including one ‘over proof’ variety which I think was 65 per cent alcohol, went into this one. As a finishing touch we lit a pool of rum in a mashed-up lime on the top, and doused it with a sprinkling of cinnamon. Surprisingly drinkable.
Finally, we had a ‘mix-off’, in which we worked in teams at our benches to create and name our own cocktail. Adam, of course, was the judge. Our concoction was the Rumtini, with two different kinds of rum, lime, mint, sugar syrup and a muddling of raspberries to give a delicate pink colour to what would otherwise have been a slightly murky–looking creation. Ruth, Jim and I proudly displayed it on the judge’s bench, but Adam claimed it was ‘terrible’ and awarded the prize to the vivaciously-flavoured Hoxton Shambles instead.
By the end of the session, I’d learned the correct way to put a cocktail shaker and a glass together (as well as how to get them apart); how many seconds of pouring from a bottle counts as one measure (three); how to bruise mint leaves by clapping your hands; and how to professionally sample a cocktail with a straw. But most of all, I’d learned that downing several strong cocktails on a Saturday afternoon is a surefire way to get drunk and have a good time. Thanks to my kind friends at Pearson for sending me on the mixology masterclass!
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