It's a boozy issue of Matt The List today featuring four bar trips, whisky chocolate making, and 9 holes of miniature golf.
Wednesday 24th September - A cracking Wednesday night kicked off with a quick stop at new dive bar called Modern Love which has taken over the site of Common at 323 Old Street. Picklebacks and pints in frat-house red cups are the order of the day, alongside £8 cocktails and Big Apple Hot Dogs.
It's a good-looking little bar (with Doodle Bar-esque chalk board walls), and the atmosphere is bound to be great (and sweaty) when full. Drinks could be a little cheaper to fit the dive bar vibe, and I would like to see some better beers than 1664 & Red Stripe chucked in, but sometimes an ordinary lager is all you need.
Next stop, the pop-up I have been waiting for (and dreaming of) for a long time. Friends will vouch for the fact that I have often discussed opening a crazy-golf based bar myself, but The Institute of Competitive Socialising have beaten me to it with Swingers.
In the same warehouse that housed Junipalooza and Monkey Shoulder's Malt Jockey, Swingers has set up shop (currently until January 2015) with a load of booze and street food, and 9 holes of mini / crazy golf.
Expecting huge queues later on, I went straight for the food. Pizza Pilgrims are permanently in residence, banging out their usual fantastic sourdough pizzas. My eyes rarely make it past the 'Nduja.
Joining them on our night was Patty & Bun, burger kings of London. Alongside their excellent Ari Gold cheeseburger, they were also slinging out Tamarind Thighs with smoked peanuts and smashed cucumbers, and a Golfball Sub with pork & beef bone marrow meatballs.
Check the street food line-up before your visit here. The likes of When Mac Met Cheese and Hix Fishdog will be putting in a shift at some point.
As for the drinks, there are a couple of bars to choose from - the clubhouse (which has a lot of Gentleman Jack sponsored drinks) and a Freixenet cava bar. I recommend going for the bubbles. The cocktails are £8 at both bars, and the Soho Spritz was the winner by a long way. The drinks list at the clubhouse bar needs a complete overhaul in my opinion - the spirits are boring and out of touch with current trends, as are the beers.
Now - the main event. Miniature golf. I'm calling it that rather than crazy golf as I think there need to be more laughing clowns, rocket ships and explosions to fit into that category.
Teeing off with me was Tim - we played 72 hole of mini / crazy golf in four different American & Canadian cities over the summer, so we were in good shape. We happened to be paired to play with the very man who designed the course, Tom, and his +1 Cath. Looking on from the bar balcony was the World Minigolf Champion (not kidding) - the pressure was on.
It soon became clear that Tom was much better at designing minigolf than playing it. Meanwhile, bookies favourite Tim made good on his summer form, and raced away with the title, ending up two shots short of the score posted by the World Minigolf Champion.
It's a great little course, with sand traps, water features, jumps, loop the loops, bridges, tunnels, and that one hole that every course needs with a tempting but risky shortcut. Several in front of us tried bouncing the ball off the wall, only to end up hitting spectators who thought they were safely out of harm's way. All part of the fun. And having drinks brought to you on the course doesn't hurt either.
As we shook hands at the end of the round, Tom helped me tick off something that I didn't know was on my bucket list - acquire blueprints to a minigolf course.
You can't fail to have a good time at Swingers, but you may struggle to get in at this stage as so many tickets have been sold in advance. You can still walk in and get a tee off time booked in, but you will need to be prompt! Here's hoping they extend their stay for a few more months. Who needs the Ryder Cup?
Tim and I fancied a stronger drink to finish the evening, so we moved round the corner to Looking Glass Cocktail Club on Hackney Road, which I hadn't visited for over a year. Rather than head through the looking glass mirror / door, we stayed in the atmospheric front section of the bar. Check their website for news on live music events that take place in the main room.
Look no further than these fine drinks:
The Marquis - Calvados, a cider brandy from Basse-Normandie in France, is stirred lovingly with Punt e Mes (an orange-flavoured red Italian aperitif with quinine) and peach and fennel cordial; then into a rocks glass and garnished with an orange peel. As it says on the menu, it's a sin not to like it.
Julia - Brandy mixed with Rittenhouse rye whiskey, Crème de Figue, Noilly Pratt rouge, aromatic bitters and garnished with lemon oil and a cherry. It commemorates an Italian army division stationed in Russia named Julia, which, in minus 40 degree weather, drank brandy as it was the only thing that wouldn’t freeze.
Angel's Share - Redbreast 12yo Irish Whiskey with rich, sweet flavours and a spicy kick is enhanced by Solera sherry wine, Punt e Mes, Frangelico & Sinemetu bitters then stirred into a rocks glass with a large block of ice & garnished with a liquorice stick & orange zest. The Middleton distillery looses 250,000 litres of its barrelled stock yearly by evaporation - this is known as the "Angel's Share".
|Marquis & Julia|
The cocktails were the best that I've had since many a fine drink in New York, and the service was also comparable. Extra points for bartenders with a sense of humour who manage to make time for every customer. Looking Glass Cocktail Club is underrated and in a prime location - check it out.
Tuesday 23rd September - I'll just finish by mentioning a fun evening of whisky & chocolate tasting and making, with Paul Wayne Gregory Chocolates and World Duty Free whiskies at Zetter Townhouse in Clerkenwell.
After some superb canapés and cocktails, Miss Whisky (Alwynn Gwilt) and Paul took us through a tasting of 6 whiskies (which World Duty Free had exclusive use of first) and countless chocolates.
A full set of photos can be found on the Matt The List Facebook page.
My favourite combinations were The Dalmore Valour (£46.99) with Paul's passionfruit truffles, and the Balvenie Triple Cask 12 Year Old (£49.99) with a vanilla pod truffle (Madagascan / Haitian vanilla). Jameson Signature Reserve and Jack Daniel's Silver Select didn't quite do it for me, but I was impressed by the Highland Park Harald (£62.99) and Talisker Dark Storm (£42.99). The Highland Park is quite gentle despite being named after Harald the warrior. A weekend on Islay has put me firmly in the peaty whisky camp, so smoky Talisker was the winner for me.
World Duty Free of course have a much wider selection than the 6 that we saw, and the prices are very reasonable. As for Paul's chocolates, I urge you to seek them out. They taste as good as they look...
After the tasting, we split into groups based on our favourite whisky and made our own chocolates - messy, delicious business as you can see. I opted for Talisker Dark Storm (as did several others) and got stuck in.
|Drinking a Rob Roy on the job|
|The finished product|
-THE LONG AND SPICY ROAD-
3 sticks fresh ginger
45ml Johnnie Walker Explorers’ Club Collection
The Spice Road
10ml lemon juice
2 tbsp apricot jam
2 dashes Angostura bitters
10ml elderflower cordial
3-4 sage leaves
Muddle the ginger in a cocktail shaker.
Add all the ingredients with ice and shake hard.
Fine strain over ice in to a highball glass.
Top with soda and stir.
Garnish with ginger, sage & lemon.
50ml The Balvenie Triple Cask 12 Year old
5ml 100% pure maple syrup
2 dashes peach bitters
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
Canada Dry ginger ale
To begin, put your serving glass in the freezer to chill
while you make your drink.
Next, combine the whisky, maple syrup and one dash of peach
bitters, along with one sprig of rosemary
in a Manhattan or Boston shaker.
Add 6-7 large ice cubes, put the top on,
and shake for 10-12 seconds
(until the shaker is ‘too cold to hold’).
Remove your serving glass from the freezer,
add 5 large cubes ice to it,
and strain your cocktail mixture into the glass.
Top with a splash of ginger ale
(to your liking, but around 30ml) along with one dash of peach
bitters, and the second fresh sprig of rosemary.
50ml Jura Turas Mara
20ml Martini Rosso
1 dash Angostura bitters
Combine all ingredients in a glass or steel vessel,
top with ice and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled
cocktail glass and garnish with an orange zest,
or a maraschino cherry.
Cocktail tips from Miss Whisky:
Watch & Learn: Want to shake your cocktail like a pro? Or know just what garnish looks best? Then head to Youtube. These days, everyone from your favourite drinks brand to award-winning mixologists have video tutorials, which can be a huge help in understanding how a drink can be made and how it should look at the end. Plus, watching the art of cocktail making is surely a great way to while away the time on your commute to the office.
Experiment: Once you've seen how the pros do it, take a minute to think what flavours you like, whether in food or drink. Like something more savoury? Then look to making drinks with more sour content or play around with the numerous bitters available nowadays. Have a sweet tooth? Homemade sugar syrups are a breeze (again, Google is your friend in this for recipe retrieval) so play around with tastes you think suit your palate.
Buy Quality Ingredients: A common misconception is that poor quality alcohol can be masked in a cocktail. But if you don't start with something good, you're unlikely to end up with something good. Invest in a few key ingredients to start – a quality gin, say, or a good whisky, alongside one or two bitters (like angostura, found in most supermarkets) and always fresh lemons, limes or oranges over pre-mixed to make the sour component.
Make it pretty: Cocktails aren't just about the taste but how they look, which is why indulging in them can be such a pleasure. But making them shine doesn't have to be expensive. Look out for a couple of coupe glasses or heavy tumblers when next passing a second-hand shop. And, invest in a few silicon ice cube trays in different shapes and sizes to fit the glassware.
Measure and taste: Making a good cocktail, like a good meal, is all about balance and even the most astute and practiced of bartenders will have a quick sample before serving. For measuring, you don't need any fancy equipment – I've often resorted to using a shot glass and a small plastic measure I picked up for about £1 at the supermarket. But, make sure you test it before giving to your guests to ensure you're happy with the balance of flavours
Enjoy! Miss Whisky / Matt The List x
P.S. Don't forget to get your London Cocktail Week wristband for £10 - 200 bars involved this year!