A roundup of day two and three of Bar Convent Berlin is forthcoming, but I realise reading about me having lots of fun in Germany probably isn’t as exciting as it was for me so wanted to skip ahead to day three and share a very interesting cocktail I tried during one of the sessions on the main stage.
“Why The Mixed Drink Is European” featured Henry Besant, Nick Strangeway and Charles Vexenat mixing up an array of cocktails and punches whilst fine European art displayed on the video screen behind them and classical music played out through the room. Many of the drinks came from the Café Royal Cocktail Book, a classic tome published in 1937 by the UK Bartenders Guild that is now exceedingly hard to find. Thankfully, Jared Brown has gone to the trouble of reprinting it so the book, and its recipes, can now be enjoyed by all and sundry.
Some of the drinks Henry, Nick and Charles made used some pretty exotic ingredients like “oaked” gin, but the drink that had the most impact on me was thankfully rather simple in construction. Indeed, it makes use of perhaps the most common ingredient you’ll find in most bars these days… vodka. I know what you’re thinking, but hold on – stay with me here!
Vodka gets a lot of grief amongst cocktailian circles, perhaps as a backlash against its appearance in any number of cocktails that offend common taste and decency, and it’s a spirit I haven’t really paid much attention to here. I am a fervent supporter of the well-made Cosmopolitan, but while I certainly don’t view it as harshly as some I am usually fairly dismissive of it as a cocktail ingredient.
There are so many other spirits that are more complex and bring so much to a drink, why spend time with something that is odourless and tasteless by very definition? After this drink, I’ve been forced to reconsider this view…
- 1½ shots / 45 ml / 1½ oz port
- 1½ shots / 45 ml / 1½ oz vodka
- 1 dash Angostura Aromatic bitters
- Stir all ingredients with ice. Strain in to a cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon zest twist.
While making the drink the presenters advised that vodka is a great spirit to mix with when you want to tone down the flavour of a powerful ingredient, but keep up the alcohol content to avoid losing the drinks kick. It’s not something I’d ever thought about really, but it makes sense. After trying the Clubland, it makes a lot of sense. I was sat with Jeffrey Morgenthaler during this session, and when he handed me the drink his eyes were lit up like a christmas tree. After trying it I realised why – this is by far the best vodka drink I have ever tasted.
The original recipe in the Café Royal Cocktail Book calls for white port, and while I can’t recall what was used at the BCB session, in the absence of any white port on my shelves, I decided to give it a go with a 10-year-old Tawny and an LBV. Both work nicely but the Tawny is the winner for me, with the vodka unlocking its complex flavours resulting in a smooth but interesting drink, and the Angostura enhancing the port further.
I will definitely be returning to this drink with different ports in hopes of recreating the superlative drink that was handed around at BCB. Ultimately though, what it has really taught me is to be a little more open-minded. Had I come across the Clubland just by flicking through a recipe book I wouldn’t have given it a second thought, and that would have been a real shame. Don’t let it pass you by just because it contains vodka.
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