Should cocktails start in the kitchen?

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Often, people will imagine chefs and bartenders as masters of different arts. Working closely together but also very apart. Just as people usually wouldn’t expect a bartender to be able to cook a gourmet meal, people would not expect a chef to be able to create a high-end cocktail. However, the two worlds these people live in are much more closely linked than we may think. And, with even more crossover, I wonder whether we could be seeing more personalised drinks, innovation and excitement on our menus?

As someone who is passionate about experiences, I am always striving to look for the next new exciting thing, to try something I have never tried before. This side of me comes out at restaurants and bars more so than anywhere else. But, for someone to want to stray from their norm I believe that person must be enticed. With cocktail innovation having taken on so many leaps and bounds in recent times this is becoming even more difficult. But, when chefs and bartenders combine, incredible things can be made.

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In an interview for Munchies, the food blog for media company Vice, Felix Meana, the beverage director and co-owner of Nightbell, a bar and small plates restaurant in North Carolina, explained that his bartenders often thought of new drinks whilst in the kitchen. In fact, when talking about his cocktail Persephone’s Sin, bartender Dan Byers said he “came up with the idea [of the cocktail] making a pork loin rubbed with rosemary and a pomegranate glaze. The lightbulb went off while cooking and he began experimenting with the cocktail the next day.”

He continued: “I believe that when creating any cocktail, having love for cooking and spirits alike is an integral part to its success. Our team behind the bar prides itself with being creative and diligently working on finding new ways to incorporate many different profiles into each cocktail."

It was this interview that really got me thinking about the topic and wondering what could come of chefs and bartenders not only embracing but working together to create ground-breaking masterpieces.

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In Kyoto, Japan, a bar called nokisita711 Gin and cocktail Labo fully embodies this idea. Their cocktails are bold, exciting and often overlap with food. This is primarily a gin bar, and the menu is full of exciting and often ground-breaking ideas and experiments that customers love. The small bar only has about 4 seats, but still draws in crowds who want to watch the bartenders work and experience their incredible concoctions. Items like gin cocktails with mushrooms and thyme, and cocktails surrounded by soil and living herbs are what give this place its defining edge.

These experimental cocktails are available here in the UK as well. In Manchester, a secret bar called The Washhouse is hidden behind the front of a laundrette. With a reservation and a phone call you can go behind the scenes to the cocktail bar, which specialises in experimental drinks.

The menu involves drinks like Darjeeling Limited, the description reads “let us take you on a journey through India! Gabrial Boudier Darjeeling Liqueur & Ketel One Vodka infused with chilli then sweetened with cumin syrup & lengthened by apple juice steeped in curry leaves.” It’s drinks like this that show the full powers of a bartender and chef combined.

In London, keep an eye out for the Experimental Cocktail Club, which hides behind a nondescript door in Chinatown. This club also has a list of incredible cocktail fusions, like the Stockholm Syndrome, which is made up of: Ketel 1 vodka infused with cumin and dill, Linie aquavit, lemon juice, simple syrup, pink Himalayan salt and Peychauds bitters. 

As customisation and innovation continues I am excited to see if chefs and bartenders continue to come closer together to create exciting and pioneering experiences.