For every transcendent and inspired new cocktail there is someone out there mixing Gatorade with tequila and calling it a Margarita. Clinton Cawood takes a look at some of the worst cocktail Gallery of Horrors offenders
In all art there is an element of risk. To be considered truly revolutionary, you have to explore the outer reaches, where no one else is willing to go. Everyone knows that rye whiskey and sweet vermouth pair beautifully, but maybe, just maybe, there is something even better out there, you know?
The inevitability, of course, is that someone exploring these extremes falls off the edge, creatively; inadvertently perpetuating a crime against their art. Or, maybe, they just really don’t know what they’re doing.
The following pages contain accounts of such criminal cocktail moments, as told by their victims, or in some cases by their perpetrators. Some stem from a near-fatal lack of education, some from an unbridled and misguided creativity. But they all have one thing in common: none should ever be made again. EVER...
The death of a classic
Matt Cusworth, Hoot the Redeemer, Edinburgh
‘A couple of years ago I was travelling with my girlfriend. She’s a filmmaker and had a job documenting an event in a large chain hotel. I’ll not say which one but it rhymes with a certain stinky blue cheese. We were staying the night, so after we had finished filming, we headed to the bar for a well-deserved drink. The menu offered classics so we ordered a Negroni and a Manhattan.
‘The bartender began with the Manhattan and painstakingly poured bourbon and sweet vermouth into a shaker.
‘Next, instead of Angostura Bitters, he added that brutal syrup from a jar of glacé cherries. While turning to my girlfriend and relaying my confusion, I heard the shaking over my shoulder. Yep, that’s my Manhattan being shaken.
‘Another couple of minutes of unfathomably frantic running around the bar ensued, until he returned emotionally and physically exhausted, explaining he couldn’t make the Negroni as there was no Punt e Mes. I didn’t have the heart or the energy, for that matter, to explain about the vermouth he had just used for the Manhattan.’
Leaving a legacy
David West, Jake’s Bar & Still Room, Leeds
‘It was a glorious summer in 2008 or 2009. I was sure Bacardi Legacy would be mine. I wandered into Bibis in Leeds with all the arrogance of Bergkamp 2002 against Newcastle. If you know, you know.
‘I went up in front of the legendary David Parsons and started to make my Legacy drink. I began with 50ml Bacardi Carta Blanca. First part dealt with. Next, 25ml ice cream chocolate syrup.
‘I think I may have made a little mistake here. Then 25ml Dolcelatte blue cheese. Oh god, now I have
really messed this up…
‘This was one of those days where you regret every single decision. I feel this is quite possibly the most criminal thing done to a spirit during my bartending career.’
Charing Cross Psycho
Julian de Féral, Gorgeous Group, London
‘Around 2000 I was working at a hotel bar, getting up to all sorts of mischief. After we finished work my partner in crime and I would walk down Charing Cross Road to Break For The Border, where my good friend Jaron Berkhemer worked.
‘We knew all the staff and would get the royal treatment – fast tracked through the line of eager tourists into this Wild West-themed bar where we would proceed to neck Coronas into the early hours of the morning. Although more of a beer and shot bar, there were requests for cocktails too, particularly from the tourists.
‘Amongst such classics as the Mango Surprise (a JD & Coke, but twice the price and no mango… ‘Surprise!’), was Jaron’s favourite: the Cinnamon Psycho. This was a lethal combination consisting of hefty measures of sloe gin, apricot brandy and cinnamon Aftershock shaken with pineapple juice, with a black sambuca float, served with a carefully counted out nine black straws and a lit cigarette.‘In his own words: “That is not a crime, that is cocktail genocide.”’
Sophie Mackay, The Drawing Room, West Didsbury
‘I came across this while visiting a friend in Kissimmee in Florida, who had raved about the biker bar down the road that did the best burger I would eat in my life – which it was. My friend wanted a shooter, so the bartender suggested his favourite, called a Smoker’s Cough. What a mistake. I watched him pour two cold shots of Jäger – so far, so good.
‘But he then proceeded to spoon in a large dollop of mayonnaise into each of our glasses and handed it over. The bartender saw the look of sheer horror on my face and very politely offered to shake it for me, to mix the two ingredients.
‘I took one shaken and one not, and attempted a sip before I realised my burger would probably reappear if I drank it all, and poured the rest down the drain in the smoking area.’ Where it belonged.
Case of the rotten egg
Charlie Otth, Chartreuse
‘I illegally got my first bar job when I was 17 years old at a place called Baron’s in Kings Cross, Sydney. It was a shithole, but it one of the only places in the area with a 24-hour licence.
‘A stag do group came in, and the guys asked my bar manager, Gareth, what drink they could get the stag to really fuck him up.
‘Gareth just started laughing and turned up with this drink called a Rotten Egg.
‘You get a brandy balloon, put absinthe in it, and then a big blotch of this weird Eggnog liqueur stuff. You put in a few straws, cup your hand over the glass and shake the thing.
‘You then lift the straws above the liquid and inhale the fumes, before putting the straws back in and drinking the creamy mixture. This guy was huge. He did all the fumes, got half-way through the liquid, then fell off his bar stool. All of his mates were pissing themselves laughing. I thought it was the most horrendous thing I’d ever seen.’
Ashes to Ashes
Russell Burgess, Appleton
‘When I was bar manager at The Box in Soho, I witnessed a crime against champagne.
‘A regular came to the bar – your typical regular, with lots of money and no sense – and ordered a £600 magnum of Dom Pérignon. And then he asked me for a sparkler.
‘We had some, but didn’t use them very much. This was The Box, so a bit classier than that, but not by much. I reticently said yes.
‘The sparklers come with a little plastic attachment that you put on the bottle, and then carry it around.
‘I lit it for him, and he hovered it over the bottle, then put it on top of the neck. Gravity did its duty, and the whole sparkler went into the bottle.
‘His face was a picture, as he stood there looking like a kid who’s broken his own toy. Only then I realised, it is like when you give someone a beer and they accidentally spill it, and you’re like, okay, here’s another beer. Except it is an expensive bottle of champagne. I did the maths in my head, and then just got him another bottle.
‘So, I was left with this magnum. Maybe it’ll taste fine, I thought. I poured out glasses for the staff, and we’re all like, cheers!
‘And it literally tasted like gunpowder and cigarette ash. It was appalling. So there I am, pouring the whole magnum of Dom Pérignon champagne into the sink, and watching as eventually the drowned sparkler falls out.’
Enter the camel
Danil Nevsky, Cocktails for you
‘Have you ever had a camel-milk cocktail?
‘I was invited by the fledgling bar community of Kazakhstan to do a set of seminars all over the country as well as some guest shifts. On the first day, after 18 hours of travel, and just two hours’ sleep, I turned up for my first shift.
‘The guys at the bar whipped out some plastic bottles containing some very white liquid identified only with random Kazakh letters on the labels. Fermented, unpasteurised camel’s milk – shubat. I asked what it was for. “A Ramos, of course.”
‘It knocked the shit out of any other type of milk I’ve ever tried. Get out of here rice, soya and almond. Smoky, sour, full-throttle camel’s milk. Like Missy Elliot in the 90s. And definitely not one for the Bieber fans.
‘I heard someone describe it as tasting like licking a camel’s ball sack after it’s been around the Sahara Desert and back, then smeared with brown sauce and dipped in an ashtray.
‘You either like it or hate it, but you’ll respect anyone who drinks it.’
Eat your heart out
Rob Worsley, MEATliquor, UK
‘We once did a tiki comp, Keko Moku vs Hula, at the Northern Bar Show. The brief was to make a sharing drink for the crowd, with the crowd deciding the winner.
‘We decided to disembowel one of our former members of staff wearing a suit containing the ingredients, to demonstrate that tiki is always within you.
‘We had a harness-style jacket and strapped the ingredients to it, with tubes to pump them out when we pushed the bottles, simulating resuscitation. ‘There was a pouch with corn flour, water and red food dye, and we then added a real lamb’s heart, a couple of livers, some kidneys and some random offal that the butcher just threw in for free because he thought we were alright.
‘We were up first, cue the music, drag Adam out the crowd, and proceed to slice him open. We were pulling sausages out of him in a comedy fashion, squeezing the heart to pretend it was still beating.
‘We then got a bit carried away and started throwing raw offal into the crowd. At first they thought it was hilarious, but I remember some faces in the audience as they started to realise they weren’t actually stage props.
Afterwards I sat next to a woman who kindly gave me back the lamb heart and said: “It’s very realistic – where did you get it from?” I had to lie and tell her a friend of mine creates props for horror movies. Hula brought out a massive homemade volcano. They won.’
While you're here…
Have you registered for the on-trade’s favourite drinks show yet? Imbibe Live is taking place on 3-4 July at Olympia London.
If you don't already know, Imbibe Live is the innovative and interactive annual exhibition for anyone who sources, buys or serves drinks in the licensed on-trade. From sommeliers to buyers and from managers to publicans and bartenders, this essential date in the drinks calendar will see the industry’s finest come together.
Register today: https://www.imbibe.com/live
We can’t wait to see you there!