Ryan Chetiyawardana: Homegrown talent

Drinks: Drinks

Can the pull of the exotic lead us to pass over excellence at home?

Just an observation: don’t the recent cocktails hailing from the US (OK, particularly New York) resemble drinks you may stumble across in an old cocktail book?

Take Sam Ross’ Penicillin (a hot toddy, served cold), or Mickey McIlroy’s Thumbs Up (a reinforced Last Word). Don’t get me wrong; incredible bartenders, and incredible drinks, no doubt carefully timed, created and delivered, but nonetheless something you could see doing the rounds many moons ago, perhaps in Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book or in Duffy’s The Official Mixer’s Manual.

This does not detract from their quality – simplicity is key – but it makes me wonder why we revere them so highly when simple yet innovative twists or unconventional formulae of the kind you might see at Bramble in Edinburgh, or Callooh Callay in London, go largely unnoticed; drinks that have a grounding in the simple drinks of the past, but which have been given a modern, often satirical twist.

Drinks such as Bramble’s Red Rum (Bacardi 8, Plymouth Sloe Gin, lemon, redcurrants and vanilla gomme), or Callooh Callay’s Ale of Two Cities (42Below Feijoa, Punt e Mes, nettle cordial, malt syrup, apple, lime and bitters), both well balanced and perfectly observed, are modern drinks that should be better known.

I think it’s a shame that we don’t shout about our homegrown talent enough, while happily putting other bartending cultures on a pedestal.

I suppose one part of the problem is proximity. When people are nearby, there’s a worry that cross-pollination could lead to accusations of plagiarism, so borrowing from further afield becomes more attractive. And, sure, to some extent studying exotic skills displays a mastery and professionalism of one’s art. But, perhaps paradoxically, in this day of global information sharing, I feel we should be championing what’s close by.

I’ve always enjoyed an appreciation of the Japanese aesthetic (who hasn’t?), but I feel their

We don’t shout about our homegrown talent enough, while happily putting other bartending cultures on a pedestal

style of bartending receives unfair emphasis in the UK scene. I find this particularly strange seeing as the German style is very much closer to ours, and displays the similar style of service, attention to detail and meticulous practice as the Japanese – but with better drinks. (Ueno San and a few others aside!)

I put this misplaced emphasis down to a couple of things. First is the aforementioned ‘exotic’ nature of Japanese bartending, which gives it its appeal, and second is the difference in customer service.

Those who have visited the hotspots that I feel are attracting the majority of our attention – the US and Japan – will have experienced a level of service that’s so far beyond what they receive elsewhere that it elevates their drinking experience. And this affects their perception of bartending.

Yet, the standard of service is rarely brought back. The reverence is concentrated instead on techniques and recipes.

The innovation, breadth and enthusiasm in the UK is unrivalled worldwide. Why are we not celebrating this, as we do with some of our produce? (Go Nyetimber, Somerset Cider Brandy, Penderyn!) Not only do I believe that we have more than enough to shout about, but I think the bartending scene in the UK is something we, and the rest of the world, should look to for inspiration.

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