Imbibe's Spritz Challenge: The Coral Room

Miranda Fitzgerald

05 June 2019

Spritzes have come a long way since the days of wine and soda water, so we challenged four bartenders to come up with modern classics that can add zip to warm afternoons. In the first instalment of our four-part series, Miranda Fitzgerald shares the sparkling secrets of The Coral Room

There’s no denying that customers are tending towards lower-abv drinks these days. Bartenders might favour cocktails that are stirred down and brown, but the folks on the other side of the bar are edging towards the lighter, fresher end of the spectrum.

And that might not be a bad thing, when you look at profit margins and the number of drinks punters can knock back without collapsing in a heap.

The current resurgence of the spritz was, of course, heralded by the rise of the Aperol Spritz, which has clogged up Instagram feeds the world over for the past few years. However, the bar world is starting to look beyond the Italian drink that’s more radioactive in colour than Donald Trump’s face, to spritzes made with other liqueurs, vermouths and spirits.

Refreshing and approachable, spritzes can, if you’re not careful, err on the side of being a bit insipid and one-note. So with the warmer months approaching, we devised the Spritz Challenge, tasking leading bartenders with creating drinks that are complex and structured while remaining sessionable and consumer-friendly.

How did they fare? Let’s just say we’ve already marked in our diaries when each of these new creations will be hitting their respective bars’ cocktail menus...

By Brian Calleja, The Coral Room

Glass: Spritz
Garnish: Lavender sprigs, slice of peach, small handful of blueberries
Method: Combine all ingredients except Three Choirs over ice. Shake and strain over ice. Top up with sparkling wine.

30ml Belsazar Rosé Vermouth
15ml tonka bean syrup*
20ml peach liqueur
40ml Chapel Down Sauvignon Blanc
Three Choirs sparkling wine

*In a medium sauce pot, warm two cups of water and two cups of sugar to just below boiling. Add five crushed tonka beans and stir. Leave for 20 minutes over a low heat, then cool for four hours.Strain the syrup through a fine mesh sieve and discard the beans.

The Coral Room at The Bloomsbury Hotel is an unashamedly feminine affair, from its glossy pink walls to the abundance of mirrors and art-deco detailing. Unsurprisingly the clientele is largely made up of groups of women with whom spritzes, highballs and lighter serves go down particularly well, according to bar manager Brian Calleja.

Bartender Brian Calleja mixes his spritz
Bartender Brian Calleja mixes his spritz

A rosé vermouth from Belsazar, a German brand at the forefront of the new wave of aperitifs, provides the backbone for Calleja’s drink. He mixes the vermouth with Chapel Down Sauvignon Blanc, peach liqueur and a homemade tonka bean syrup, topped up with another English wine – this time a sparkler – from Three Choirs.

While the Sauvignon grape tallies nicely with the peach liqueur, the vermouth adds subtle summer berry and floral notes, and enhances the flavours of the English wines.

‘The art of producing vermouth and blending together all the herbs and spices makes it a cocktail in itself,’ says Calleja. ‘The aromatic notes and fortified wine boost [the cocktail’s] complexity. If I left it out, the drink would become a bit bland.’

For anyone who’s going to be knocking out rows of these in a shift, a simple recipe enlivened by a complex ingredient like the vermouth is a no brainer.

Serving up the Lalita
Serving up the Lalita

The keenly gathered Imbibe team find the drink to be complex and really well balanced, with a good freshness. Calleja’s choice of tonka bean over vanilla for the syrup makes it less sweet, and provides a faint almond aroma as well as adding substance to the mouthfeel.

‘Calleja’s inspiration was a Bellini, hence both the peach garnish and liqueur,’ says Imbibe news editor Jacopo Mazzeo. ‘The vermouth, which has a balsamic, minty character, lends a freshness to the drink.’

‘Elegant and zippy, it captures the season,’ adds Imbibe editor Chris Losh. ‘There’s a spring-like vibrancy, while the ripe fruitiness is summery. The lavender is strong on the nose, but it mixes nicely with the fruit and that gentle nut note.’

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