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Sunday 1 December 2013

Purl - La Hechicera - Shaker & Company

Tuesday 19th November - Tuesday is fast becoming booze-day in my (relatively) new blogger lifestyle, as the top bars are always a bit quieter and the staff have more time to chat.  Purl and Shaker & Co have been sitting untouched on The List for far too long, so I was delighted to have the chance to visit them both last week! Natalie and I started the evening off at Purl, sampling La Hechicera Rum with co-founder Laura Riascos.

After a quick scout around the charming Purl premises, we sat down with Laura to hear about the history of the rum.  Although the La Hechicera brand is very young (it launched in the UK in 2012 and was the most highly awarded new rum that year), it all started with Laura's grandfather in Colombia. As well as being kidnapped by guerilla forces, he found time to do a deal with Castro, securing some American white oak casks and two of Cuba's finest distillers who are still working on fine rums in Barranquilla to this day.  Laura's grandfather would have been happy sitting on the majority of rum for many years, but she managed to convince the family to bottle something special up and launch a brand.

To create La Hechicera, the Riascos family blend some of their rums (aged between 12 and 21 years) using their own version of the solera method, which you can see below. The finished product is a spirit worthy of the name Enchantress (translated from Spanish), which is best drank neat but also holds its own in cocktails.

The Solera
Before we made it to the rum itself and some Purl creations, we embarked on a organoleptic journey, starting with sampling a dash of 96% neutral alcohol (rocket fuel), before trying two very different raw distillates (around 93%) and the Riascos rums at 3, 6, 12 and 16 years old.  The rums had been distilled down to 35% just as the master distiller would do for trial purposes, whereas La Hechicera is bottled at 40%.  We were astonished by the strong and distinct flavours coming from the raw distillates, which were worryingly tasty at 93%!

We eventually moved on to the blended La Hechicera, which Laura proudly states is "unpolished" (contains no additives).  It has wonderful notes of black pepper & fig, and wouldn't be out of place next to a fine whisky.  We proved that there is no added sugar by literally washing our hands with the rum - no sticky palms afterwards.  Laura also produced some of the classic additives for us to try, including some glycerin, without naming and shaming any of the worst offenders in the trade.

The lovely chaps at Purl then brought forth several cocktails making use of the rum, including an Old Fashioned, a twist on a Tom & Jerry (containing a whole egg), a Hemingway Daiquiri and a Sloe Gin & Rum Sour.  There was great variety on show, but the quality of La Hechicera always shone through. If you are stuck for Christmas ideas and want to impress a rum or whiskey fan, go out and get them a (beautifully designed) bottle - they won't be disappointed.

La Hechicera Old Fashioned
Tom & Jerry twist
As we were at Purl primarily to taste some rum, we didn't move on to many of their crazy cocktails that they are well known for.  I will have to return soon to full do them justice, but I have collated some pictures of some of their classics below. Their current cocktail list makes use of red wine ice-lollies, smoked salmon and cherry fog amongst other things.  It is a truly quirky little bar, full of low-lit cosy corners to lose an evening to - book ahead.

Purl have also recently launched a pop-up version of the bar at the The Bedford pub in Balham which I am hoping to visit very soon.  They are serving up some of their favourite Purl classics including some very theatrical, scientific cocktails - do a quick search for Mr Hyde Fixer Upper and you will see what I am talking about.  Book a table for Purl at the Bedford here.

Purl at the Bedford - Photo Credit : Rory Wylie
We hopped in a taxi to speed over to a second and final destination, Shaker & Company, on Hampstead Road near Euston and Warren Street.  Shaker & Co. is a training school for bartenders by day and a New Orleans style cocktail saloon by night.  They also run cocktail clinics and masterclasses for amateur enthusiasts.

We set up shop at the far end of the long bar under the watchful eyes of some of the greats (pictured below).  After copious amounts of rum earlier on, we were in dire need of food.  Shaker & Co. delivered with a stonking meat & cheese board, and some incredibly moreish sweet potato fries.  They also have some gourmet pizzas (think serrano ham, fig and orange truffle honey) but that's enough about food, we were there for some serious cocktails.

Vic Bergeron, Jerry Thomas, Ada Coleman, Harry Craddock and Charles Schumann

Bar manager and mixologist Simon Deeprose made his way over and started us off with 3 superbly executed Shaker & Co specials - a pleasingly sour King's Shilling (gin, lime, sherbert, strega and mezcal), a powerful Smokes & Highs (tequila, grapefruit, lime, ginger, bell pepper syrup and some extra chilli for good measure), and a classy Gentlemen's Recline (cigar-infused whisky, byrrh, calvados, spiced port reduction and liquorice bitters).

Simon also brought us his warming "Like a New Suit" cocktail that he created for a Jameson competition to coincide with the upcoming launch of Anchorman 2 - voting is now closed, but the cocktail will probably be available for a while longer.

Like a New Suit
French oak aged old fashioned barrel on the bar & free shots!
Simon was an engaging host, regularly stopping at our table for a chat and welcoming our challenges for some off-book creations - an experimental Mulled Mai Tai was the perfect antidote for the sub-zero temperatures outside.  By this point, some Coyote Ugly style bar top dancing had started down the other end, which didn't seem to surprise the bartenders.  They have a lock-in license, so they can close the doors and keep serving or drinking for a lot longer if the mood takes them.  Judging by the lively atmosphere on an ordinary Tuesday night, this could one of the most entertaining places to spend New Year's Eve.  They are a holding a Mardi Gras party - the dress code isMasquerade black tie and tickets are £25 per head which includes 2 cocktails, pizza platters, those sweet potato fries, and some Mardi Gras beads.  Read more here.

Smokes & Highs, Mulled Mai Tai and The Cocktail
Various Shaker & Co. creations
You thought I was wrapping up didn't you? Oh no, I haven't told you about Belle & Co. yet. Downstairs is a beautifully designed bohemian drinking den with its own exciting cocktail list and events. Monday is Movie Night with boozy popcorn, Tuesday is an open mic comedy night, Wednesday is a bit of everything (theatre, music, art), and Thursday-Saturday are left for table-bookings.  It is available for exclusive hire for private parties (up to 30 people) with the option of a personalised cocktail list from award winning mixologists and a cinema screen at your disposal - I may well take them up on that sometime.  They recommend booking at least two weeks ahead for Thu-Sat tables as it is always busy.

Belle & Co cocktails
Shaker & Co and Purl look pretty different on the surface, but both are producing cocktails of the highest quality without forgetting to let everyone have a good time.  Book yourself into both as soon as possible, though maybe not on the same evening!

Square Meal

Square Meal

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