Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Welcome to California. First stop... San Francisco

An early morning flight from Washington DC, saw Cara and I arrive in San Francisco just before lunch time. The sun was shining, so we quickly decided to walk down to the docks and have lunch around the  San Francisco Bay area.  This small but still densely populated city is one of the most visited tourist destinations in America. It’s known for it’s artistic culture and freedom of expression.  Aside from many musicians and artists residing in San Francisco, it also well known for it’s cultural diversity as it’s become home to many immigrants. Japan town, China town, Little Italy, Korea Town all provide much variety when exploring San Francisco. 

Cara and I made our way from our hotel, through the cities bustling financial district and toward the water front, and specifically the famous Pier 39. If you ever get the chance to go San Francisco, Pier 39 is a must see place to visit. It’s a popular tourist destination full of restaurants, souvenir shops, cafe’s and bars. Pier 39 opened in 1978, and what makes it so popular for tourists (aside from the vast amount of food and drink available), is it’s prime location. It has some of the best views of the San Francisco bay area. The Golden Gate bridge is in view on one side as is the famous ‘Alcatraz’ island on the other side. As Cara and I sat down to have lunch, it was time for me to once again broaden my research on local American beers. I ordered an “Anchor Steam Beer”. A local beer which first began brewing in San Francisco in 1849. Once again like many American beers, it was created by German brewer, Gottleib Brekle and his family. The Brekle family produced their unique blend of beer until 1896 when they sold the company to another German brewer, Ernest Baruth and his son-in-law, Otto Schinkel. The beer company stopped production during the prohibition years in the 1920’s and early 1930’s, but as soon as prohibition ended, Brewer, Joe Kraus bought the brewery and started producing the distinctive german style beer, which had gained so much popularity during it’s early years of production.  In 1959, the Anchor Brewing Company, began to increase into mass production and under took and heavily marketing campaign, which has made it one of the most popular and traditional American made beers to date.  I’ve always loved a bold and full flavoured beer. Many Australian beers such as James Squire, Little Creatures and Coopers all have these qualities, which makes them all so popular.  The Anchor Steam, has a deep rich amber colour, with a soft creamy head. When smelling the beer, you can pick up a strong hop flavours with a hint of caramel. When tasted, It’s not as heavily and strong as it looks. It is light and refreshing with a dry, slightly bitter after taste.  All in all, The Anchor Steam Beer is a well rounded nice refreshing beer. If you love your German style beers, this is definitely worth a try. 

After lunch, Cara and I continued to explore Pier 39 and as the afternoon got later, we slowly made our way back to our hotel, trying to see as much of the city along the way.  The next day we set off early to visit by far one of the most popular tourist attractions in San Francisco, Alcatraz Island.  The well known island is situated almost 2.5km from the San Francisco docks and was originally built for the US Army in 1847. But it’s most famous for being a federal penitentiary for prisoners from 1933 until 1963. During this time it was home to some of America’s worst criminals, arguably the most famous being Al Capone. It was also said that no prisoner could ever possibly escape from Alcatraz and history shows that this is true, despite 14 attempts, all prisoners were caught, except for 3 who were presumed drowned during the swim back to San Francisco, although no bodies were ever found, this still remains a mystery of Alcatraz.  Cara and I spent a couple of hours on the Island, learning about how life was as a prisoner and a worker on the “The Rock”. We jumped back on the ferry and enjoyed the short trip back to the mainland taking many pictures of Alcatraz and also the Golden Gate Bridge along the way.

Approaching “Alcatraz Island"

We spent the next day walking the streets and exploring the different cultural neighbourhoods. Of course our love for all things Italian couldn’t be ignored as we found a nice restaurant in the heart of Little Italy to have lunch. We continued walking though the 'hilly’ landscape of the city, only stopping to witness people hanging off the side of San Francisco’s well known Cable-Cars.  As we kept on moving we found ourselves in the middle of the Fillmore Jazz District, home to many jazz and blues bars and clubs in San Francisco.  The cities popular jazz scene is also what attracts many tourists every year. So we decided to head back to our hotel, freshen up and head out later that night, to listen to one of the local jazz bands play. Cara and I ended up making some new friends with the band and we sat down with them after their gig, and over a few drinks, asked them about life in San Francisco. They told us about the relaxed and laid back vide of the city and how it doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, people don’t judge each other in San Francisco.  After a great night out and an amazing few days, Cara and I headed back to the hotel for some much needed sleep. The next leg of our journey was sure to be an interesting one. Our plans were to hire a car and tackle the American roads on an 8 hour drive through the desert to Las Vegas.  

San Francisco’s Famous Cable Cars

Looking back towards the city from Alcatraz Island

Sunday, 14 April 2013

The History and Culture of Washington DC

We left Philly and continued our journey south toward the nations capital, Washington DC. Another 4 hour bus ride and we reached DC in the early afternoon. Now, Washington is not well known for its cocktail and bar scene, but this visit was not about researching bar culture in DC, it was more about discovering and learning the about history of America.  It’s a city which is full of monument’s, well known political buildings and the famous Smithsonian museums. Our stop in Washington was just for the weekend, and as luck would have it, we were fortunate enough to witness the annual cherry blossom festival which sees thousands of tourists from far and wide visit the city, as it turns pink with cherry blossoms. 

I’d booked Cara and I into a hotel, just off the National Mall, perfect location for getting to all the major sites on foot. We dumped our bags and wasted no time and quickly set off the see what Washington had to offer.  As we made our way out into the centre of the “Mall”, we could clearly see two of the most well known structures in America, and probably the world, At one end, we saw the dome of the famous US Capitol Building and at the other, was the unmistakable giant spike, which was the Washington Monument.  We decided to make our way toward the US Capitol first.  This famous building is the meeting place for the US Congress and the US Federal Government. Funnily enough, Before Congress and Government came to the Capitol Building, it had previously been held at Philadelphia’s “Independence Hall”, which Cara and I had visited the day before. It was Thomas Jefferson, who in the spring of 1792, decided to hold a design competition, for architects to propose an idea for a new home of government in Washington, as well as a home for the President. Architect William Thornton, was the winner for the US Capitol Building design. The building began its construction in 1794 and on November 17th 1800, the US Congress held its first meeting inside the new location. Construction and expansion continued until 1811. When seeing the Capitol Building on TV and movies, It’s hard to comprehend the size, but as we made our way closer, we were both blown away and amazed that something so impressive was built over 200 years ago. 

As is to be expected in Washington, security is tight surrounding important places, so we could only go so far. After several photos and long periods of staring in amazement, we made our way back, up the Mall, toward the Washington Monument. The shape of this structure is known as a “obelisk”, which is a tall 4 sided pillar, tapering in at the top into a point. This monument, which was named after George Washington, is the largest obelisk in the world. It stands 170 metres tall. It’s construction began in 1848, but was not completed until 1884. Due to lack of funds, building was halted for 23 years in the middle of that time. The Washington monument is arguably the centre point of the city.  As Cara and I stood at the bottom of the giant obelisk, we had a clear view back toward the Capitol building. In the other direction was the famous Lincoln Memorial and reflecting pool. Lastly, directly north of the monument is the presidents home, "The White House”.  Never had we seen so many different famous sites within one eye shot. 

After an amazing first day in the nations capital, we made our way back to our hotel for some much needed food and drink. We stopped off at a nearby bar, where I decided to continue my research on American brews by trying another US beer. This time it was the Yuengling Traditional Lager.  Yuengling is the oldest brewing company in America. It was established in 1829 by German brewer David Gottlob Yuengling. When David Yuengling immigrated to America, he started up a brew house, based in Pottsville, Pennsylvania.  So far I’ve noticed that American beers are very heavily influenced by the Belgium and German style of brewing, and the Yuengling beer is no exception. Although It’s a lager, the Yuengling flagship beer has a deep rich amber colour. It has a light herbal aroma and when tasted, you can pick up hints of caramel which makes this beer a little sweeter than your average lager. It has a nice crisp clean finish and it’s slightly higher in carbonation, which made for a nice refreshing, thirst quenching beverage after a long day of travel and sight seeing. 

The site seeing continued the next day as we visited the Smithsonian museums, and some of the many other monuments and memorials in Washington DC. But, by far our highlight for the day was getting up close (well, as close as we could get) to the White House. The home of the US President was designed by Irish architect James Hoban, in 1792. Like the Capitol Building, Construction was completed in 1800 and it has been the home to every US President since that time. Before the White House, US Presidents would base themselves in New York City. But in 1801, Thomas Jefferson was the first president to move into the White House. As we walked around, taking many photos, we saw a nice little restaurant along Pennsylvania Avenue, which would make a perfect place for us to have dinner and a cocktail.  On an unseasonably warm night in Washington, Cara and I enjoyed the opportunity to sit outside, just near the front gates of the White House and look down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol Building whilst sipping on a cocktail. Cara was drinking a lychee and raspberry Bellini, and I decided to go for one of my favourites, a classic ‘Rum Punch’. 

The next day, the city was a buzz. It was the day of the famous national cherry blossom festival. It’s a day which symbolises friendship between America and Japan. It started in 1912 when the mayor of Tokyo, Yukio Ozaki, gave Washington DC the gift of 3000 cherry blossom trees. Every year during the month of April, these trees blossom which turns some of Washington’s most famous sites into a sea of pink. As Cara and I made our way around the festival taking it all in, we were lucky to witness the annual parade which goes through the city centre which includes many of the local school groups and sporting teams. It also celebrates many other cultures and people who have immigrated to America, not just the Japanese. 

Looking at the Jefferson Memorial, through the Cherry Blossoms.
As mentioned at the start, Washington DC is not the epicentre of all things cocktails and bars in America. It is however a place full of history and culture. Cara and I both learned a lot from our weekend visit. We now have to say goodbye to the east coast of America as out next stop would be the on the other side of the country in San Francisco!

“Lychee and Raspberry Bellini”
Shake with no ice
30ml Lychee Liqueur
30ml Raspberry Puree
Pour into Champagne Flute
Top with Prosecco

Classic “Rum Punch”
Build over ice
15ml Lime Juice
30ml Sugar syrup
45ml Rum
60ml Orange Juice
Garnish with grated Nutmeg over the top (optional)

The classic rhyme for Rum Punch goes...

“One part sour, two parts sweet, three parts strong and four parts weak"

Saturday, 13 April 2013

A Quick Stop in Philly

We jumped on the mega bus from New York, and headed south to Philadelphia. It’s only 3 hours from New York, which meant we would be in Philly by lunch time.  People would ask us before this trip, why Philadelphia? and the answer is simple. After a hectic 5 days in New York, we needed some relaxation time and it was also a good half way point to our next stop, Washington DC.  But don’t get me wrong there is still plenty of things to see and do in Philly.  If you ever find yourself in Philadelphia for 24 hours, there are a couple of things you absolutely must do. 

The first “Must-Do" is to run up the famous “Rocky Steps”, as seen in the movie. As cheesy as it sounds, you can’t help but laugh and have fun doing it.  As Cara and I arrived in Philly, we dropped our bags at our hotel, and headed straight for the Philadelphia Museum of Art to conquer the famous 72-step climb.  The steps have now become an icon of the city and attract thousands of tourists every year. We made our way down Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and straight away we could see the steps in the distance. Once we reached the steps, we were surprised to find not to many other people were mimicking the sprint up to the top.  So we had the steps mostly to ourselves.  Cara and I took it in turns to make our way to the top, laughing and smiling the whole way. You can’t help but get into the mood and sing the Rocky theme as you reach the end of the steps. Once we conquered the climb, we had the chance to stop and take in the view over the city on a gorgeous day in of Philadelphia. 

Once we departed from the steps is was time to relax, so we headed to “Old town”, a part of Philly which is famous for Independence Hall and also being the home of our second “Must-Do”, which was having a famous “Philly Cheese-Steak”. The cheese steak was a concept which was invented in Philadelphia, but it’s now a popular meal served all across America. As we explored Old Town, we found a local bar which was advertising the Philly Cheese Steak (along with a very appealing happy hour), so we decided to set up camp for the afternoon, sit outside and enjoying the warm 30 degree day.  As you can see by the photo, the Cheese Steak is not the most attractive looking meal, and in true American style, it’s far from the healthiest. It is basically a baguette, filled with shaved steak, and diced fried onions, topped with melted cheese and served with more than your average serving of fries. Cara and I figured we’d earnt it, after our run up the Rocky Steps, so we were looking forward to this Philly tradition.  I also decided to try one of the local brews sold in many bars around Philadelphia, the “Yards Pale Ale”.  The Yards Brewing company is a local Philly company which began in 1994, when friends Tom Kehoe and Joe Bovit decided to mass produce their Ale, after having been home brewing since 1988. At first they were only able to produce 6 kegs at a time, making the beer very exclusive. When demand increased and popularity grew, Tom and Joe were forced to move to another much bigger brew house, just outside Philadelphia and began mass producing their beers.  The Pale ale is a solid well rounded beer consisting of clean and crisp flavours. It has a slight citrus aroma and after taste. It is easily one of the most popular beers in Philadelphia and you can tell that there is a lot of local pride when it comes to the Yards range of beers.  

As we spent our afternoon, relaxing, eating our cheese steaks and drinking yards beers, we couldn’t have asked for a better place to chill out after the hustle and bustle of New York City. Philadelphia is probably not on the list of must see places when coming to America, but it does have a lot to offer. It was the perfect stop-over on our way to Washington DC. 

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Living the Dream in NYC

New York City... There has been no other place that we’ve been to which has carried such anticipation and exception as we arrived.  As our plane arrived into JFK airport from Iceland, we both couldn’t wipe the smiles from our faces. We were in America! The land of the free and the home of the brave. Since becoming a bartender, it has been my dream to one day visit New York City and drink in some of the great bars of the world.  Cara and I quickly gathered our bags and jumped on board the NYC metro train and headed  for Union Square, located in the lower east side of Manhattan.  Throughout our travels, Cara and I have tended to stray away from the cab option when travelling from airports to city centres. We find that catching public transport gives you a better feel for how the locals live. Our first train ride in America will be a memorable one. Mid-way through the trip, a couple of dances jumped on and began to give the commuters a break dancing show. We’d seen buskers in trains in Italy and France, but this was something else. Using the trains handles and poles to perform flips and other break dancing tricks, running up and down the carriage as the train was moving. It was quite a good show and a great introduction to life and culture in America. 

We made it to our hotel on 17th Street, dumped our bags and headed across the street to a bar for frosty cold beer and classic New York style pizza.  I ordered a pint of “Blue Moon” Beer, this popular NYC beer, is a Belgium style beer which is brewed in Colorado. Blue Moon is produced by the MillerCorrs Company, one of the biggest brewing companies in America. MillerCorrs are most commonly known for the Miller Genuine Draft range along with Corrs lite (2 of the most popular beers in America). Both the Miller and the Corrs and very light in colour and are made in more of a lager style, so the inspiration behind the Blue Moon was to create a European style beer which was more similar to an ale. This unique beer has proved to be successful as I noticed throughout our time in New York, that almost every bar had the Blue Moon on tap.  After a our beer and pizza, the time was 11pm, but with the time difference from Iceland,  our body clock was telling us it was about 4am. So we got back to our hotel and hit the hay. We needed sleep as the next few days were going to be busy. 

There are so many places to visit in New York City, where do you start? Cara and I had no idea what to do first. If you had to see only one thing in New York, what would it be? After some debate, we agreed that the Statue of Liberty would be the top of the list. So we set out and made our way to the lower west side of Manhattan Island. On our way to the Statue of Liberty, we had the opportunity to visit "Ground Zero”, the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. No words can describe the feeling when visiting the World Trade Centre site. Cara and I felt many emotions during our visit. Obviously great sadness for the victims, but we also had much admiration for the people in New York. These locals have turned this tragedy and have used it to pull together and support each other and build a community spirit which can never be broken.  

Once leaving Ground Zero, we were only a short walk from the Staten Island ferry. This free ferry service, takes you from Manhattan Island, right past the Statue of Liberty, to Staten Island. Its the best and cheapest way to see the Statue up close. Once we cruised to Staten Island and back, taking many photos along the way, it was time for lunch.  As we went in search of the typical NYC diner, we suddenly found ourselves standing on Wall St, out the front of the New York City stock exchange. After more picture taking, we found a diner, and had another regular meal in a New Yorkers diet, a classic Hot Dog.  

We began to make our way back to our hotel to freshen up, as we had a big night planned. We were heading to Times Square and also popping into B.B. Kings Jazz Bar to see the band “Atlantic Star”.  As we made our way up 5th Ave, we decided to stop off in a local tavern, not for a cocktail, but for a simple rum and coke, just to get a feel for what your standard New York “watering hole” was like. We struck up a conversation with the bartender who was happy to explain to us the "do’s" and “dont’s" for tourists in NYC. A “do” was to tip well and you’ll get “hooked-up” by the bartender, by over pouring your next drink, tip poorly, and you might as well just purchase a coke, because you won’t have much rum in you glass next time you order. Another “don’t” was not to take a horse and carriage ride through central park. New yorkers see that as a bit of a joke. If you want to see Central park, walk it, or hire a bike. So we took that advise on board as our next day was going to be spent in the park.  We finally made it to Times Square and did what thousands of other tourists were doing and thats take as many photos as we could and try not to get hassled by buskers or people dressed up as movie characters trying to get you to have your picture taken with them.  This place was packed, and it was just your usual saturday night. You could only imagine what it would be like for the famous “ball-drop” on new years eve.

After an amazing night out at B.B King’s and Times Square, we needed to return to our hotel. We had another busy following day ahead.  I could go on and describe every single little thing we did during our time in New York, but it would go on forever. To summerise, The next day was spent entirely in Central park, with dinner later that night spent around the lower east side of Manhattan. The following day was jam packed with us conquering the Empire State building and going to the Ed Sullivan Theatre for a taping of the “Dave Letterman Show”, then going to some of the top drinking spots the city had to offer.

When it comes to cocktail bars in various cities we visit, It’s usually me, who does the bar research and Cara is the one who gets dragged around to the many amazing bars we’ve drunk at. But this time, Cara suggested a bar that we must visit as it was featured in “Sex and the City”, one of her favourite shows. So I was more than happy to visit a bar which i’d never heard of before but is apparently well known to many locals. It was a place called “The Monkey Bar”, a short walk past Madison Ave on 54th Street.  This bar was definitely not a touristy bar. Filled with business men and women who had just finished work. It was quite intimidating for Cara and I as we walked through the door. We didn’t let this bother as too much as we pulled up a stool at the bar and ordered our drinks. I ordered a cocktail called a “No Problemo”. I martini style drink which consisted of Reposado tequila, Celery bitters, lime juice, an egg white and Licor 43 (a bright yellow Spanish liqueur, which has a strong vanilla and herbal flavour). Cara ordered a drink called “Mule Variations”. This was exactly what the name said, it was a variation on a classic Moscow Mule. It was made up of aged rum, fresh pressed ginger juice, lime juice and spiced walnut liqueur. Both our drinks were nice and well balanced. After two years of travelling the world drinking cocktails, it now takes a lot to impress Cara and I, So despite our drinks being very nice and well balanced, they didn’t exactly rate up there with the best drinks we’ve ever had. But that didn’t matter though. We were sitting in a swanky NYC bar, absolutely loving life and it gave us a chance to stop for a second and reflect on the past few busy days in the city the never sleeps.

We had one more day left in New York, so we decided to head out of Manhattan and visit Queens. After spending a gorgeous afternoon in Flushing Meadows Park we had one last thing to do in Manhattan. I mentioned earlier about the classic New York hot dog which we had at a local diner, and as delicious as the diner hot dog was, no visit to NYC is complete without a visit to “Grays Papaya” probably one of the most famous chain of hot dog stores in the world. So just before we returned to our hotel for the last time, we made a stop off at Grays Pappaya, just near 17th street.  It was our last night in New York and it has been a visit we will never forget. We tried not to get to upset about leaving, we still had much left in America to see. As we chowed down on our “Papaya” hot dogs we looked ahead to our next stop... Philadelphia.

“No Problemo”

In a Shaker,
45ml Reposado Tequila
15ml Licor 43
A dash of Celery Bitters
30ml Lime Juice
1 x Egg White
Shake and double strain into a Martini Glass

“Mule Variations”
In a Shaker:
60ml Aged Rum
30ml Lime Juice
5ml Ginger juice
15ml Walnut Liqueur
Shake and strain over ice in a short glass

The Amazing New York City, Looking out from the top of the Empire State Building.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

40 hours in Iceland

So we're finally on our way home back to Australia. On our way, we'll be making stops in America and New Zealand. But before we arrive in the USA, we are making a quick stop over in Reykjavik, Iceland. As we stepped off our flight and made our way outside of the airport terminal, we instantly noticed the crisp clean air. Something that you don't get very much of in the massive metropolis that is London. A light mist sat just above the rocky landscape and as we boarded our transfer from the airport, we were both excited for the next 40 hours in Iceland ahead of us.

Reykjavik, is the worlds most northern capital city. It has a population of approximately 200,000 and the entire country of Iceland only has a population of just over 300,000. The island is built almost entirely on top of black volcanic rock, which makes the landscape look like something from another planet. Iceland regularly have minor earthquakes and also tend to have volcano eruptions every 5 - 10 years.

So what can we do in just 40 hours in one country? As we arrived very late on our first night, it was important we got as much sleep as we could, as our first full day involved us touring the country's famous "Golden Circle". The Golden circle is a route which takes you to some of Icelands most breathtaking sites. We were starting our tour at the Gullfoss waterfall. Also known as the Golden Waterfall, this popular attraction boasts a giant 3 step waterfall which ends with gallons of water falling into a deep crevice spanning 20 metres wide and 32 metres deep. What blows you away with the Gullfoss Waterfall is it’s sheer size. From the viewing point above the falls, it’s an impressive sight, but once you make you way down the footpath and closer to the waters edge, the loud sound of the falling water and the depth of the crevice is a breath taking sight. Photos really do not capture the magnitude of the waterfall.

After several photos and much gazing at the beautiful Gullfoss Waterfall, our tour continued to the Geysir geothermal field. This site was filled with little boiling hot springs all dispensing steam into the air. This trail of steam looked like somebody had lit little spot fires, but as we approached each spring we could see the bubbling water bouncing around like you would see when boiling a kettle. The most popular sight in the field was the “Strokkur” hot spring. Known for it’s erupting water, Strokkur blasts boiling water up to 40 metres high every 8 - 10 minutes. These hot springs and eruptions of water have been happening for the past 10,000 years. They are caused by the build up of water and gas pressure deep in the earths core. Depending on the position of the earths plates, these hot springs have been know to only erupt very rarely, but due to an earthquake in 1935 the Strokkur Geysir now erupts very frequently making it one of the most popular attractions in Iceland.

During our days travels we also had the opportunity so visit an Icelandic greenhouse, which is used to produce some of the countries finest vegetables. Their main product is tomatoes. This completely organic tomato farm, harnesses the geothermal energy created to heat and maintain the greenhouses at exactly the right temperature, perfect for growing vegetables. We were lucky enough to taste some of their natural tomato juice which they produce and sell. This juice looked nothing like any tomato juice i'd seen before. It was not the usual red colour which you come to expect. It looked more like carrot juice. But when we tasted it, it was amazing. No artificial flavours, just 100% natural tomato juice. Bloody Mary's will never taste the same again.

After a long day of sight seeing around Iceland, it was time to head back into Reykjevik and relax. As we set out for a short walk through the town centre, naturally we had to check out the popular beverages sold in Iceland. We could clearly see that the most common drink which was being ordered in bars and pubs was a beer called “Gull”. This locally brewed lager is extremely popular with the Icelandic people. In 2011, Gull won the award for worlds best standard lager, something that the locals are very proud of.  It’s marketed as a working mans beer. It’s clean and crisp taste makes it a favourite and is stocked in almost every bar and pub in Iceland. After some food and a couple of pints of the local brew, we headed back to our hotel with only around 14 hours left until we had to be back at the airport and head off to America.  The next day we were up and out early again keen to make the most of our last few hours in the country. Fortunately one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland, just happened to be on the way to the airport. So we wasted no time and jumped on to our tour bus and made our way to the famous "Blue Lagoon". The lagoon is widely considered the best natural medical spa resort world wide. Guests have the chance to bath in the natural hot springs which stay at a constant temperature of 37 -39 degrees. The spring holds over 6 million litres of geothermal seawater, which is renewed every 40 hours. A dip in these hot waters was just what Cara and I needed before heading to the airport. So after a relaxing swim, we boarded our bus and were off the airport and bound for the USA. At the start of our travels 2 years ago, we never thought that we'd ever get the opportunity to visit Iceland. Some times we had to pinch ourselves as we were seeing some of the most beautiful and amazing sites on the planet. Our 40 hour stop over was well worth it and we both would recommend anyone to make the journey if given the chance. For now though it's off to America. First stop… New York City!

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Top 5 Things We’ll miss about the UK

Well our time here in the UK has come to an end. We now begin to slowly make our way home to Australia. Our time here has been unforgettable and truly life changing.  Over the last 2 years I posted things on this blog largely to do with the cocktail culture and the hospitality trade outside of Australia. But our trip has been so much more than cocktails and food. It been about experiencing a lifestyle which is different to what we have been used to in Australia. Sure you can go and holiday to the UK and see all the popular tourist attractions, but it is only when you get stuck into the day to day life of working and living that you get a true understanding on what life is like in the UK.  It has also made Cara and I appreciate what we have in Australia. The large open spaces, the gorgeous weather, cheaper  living expenses amongst many other things. In saying this though, there are many things that we will miss about Great Britain. On our last night in London, we decided to visit a bar which we’ve been just recently been voted as one of the top 3 bars in the world, a place called “NightJar”. It is at this bar where we’ll have our last cocktail in the UK, and reflect on the last couple of years. We decided to think back and put together a list of the “Top 5 things we are going to miss about the UK”. 

(In no particular order)

The Classic British Pie:  In Australia you can pretty much guarantee that you’ll find a “Schnitzel” on every pub menu. But in the UK, it's the classic pie. Usually a steak and ale pie, or a beef and Guinness pie, Cara and I had our fair share of this popular pub dish. Always served with chips and vegetables or in some cases, mushy peas.  Some of the pies we’ve had in our travels have been amazing. We think only maybe a very select few pubs in Australia could compete with the quality of the pies. 

You’ll never run out of things to do in London:  We have spent most of our time living and working in London and even after living somewhere for so long, there is always something new to do. A new exhibition, a new west end show, a different market to check out. You never seem to be short of things to do. I’ve heard this quote many times since being in London, “If you are tired of London, you are tired of life”.   This saying seems to mostly ring true. Although the hectic busy lifestyle of London can wear thin after a while. We’ll never get sick of exploring the city and discovering new hidden gems which make London so special.  

The Picture Perfect Countryside:  When we would go out our little adventures outside of London, and even when we toured the Scottish highlands, we could not get enough of how beautiful the landscape is outside the big sprawling cities. We saw plenty of pristine green rolling hills which look like landscape paintings, something which we don’t see much of in the baron outback of Australia. The Aussie countryside has it’s own beautiful qualities, but nothing as lush and green as the UK.

The Accessibility to the rest of Europe:  What makes the UK so appealing to many Australians is the close proximity to the rest of Europe. Cara and I have certainly taken advantage of this, doing quick trips to Italy (3 times), France (Twice), Spain and also Ireland just recently. Living in Australia means you are so far away from (what feels like) the rest of the world.  

Friends and Family:  Last but certainly not least, we will miss our friends and family who we’ve spent so much time with over the last 2 years. For me, I had the chance to see my extended family, who I’ve not seen since I was 3 years old. I have no memory of that trip, so it was like I was meeting family for the first time. They have all made Cara and I feel welcome and at home, and for that we can not thank them enough.  We’ve also made many close friends who we are all urging to make the trip to Australia. Whether they make it over or not, we’ll certainly stay in touch with all of them.  

Of course there are going to be many other things we’ll miss about the UK. I’ll miss the Haggis in Scotland. Haggis, Neeps and Tatties was a dish I fell in love with living in Glasgow. It’s something I probably won't eat for a long time, if ever again. Also, being a big fan of European football, I’ll miss watching games in primetime. It’s back to either staying up, or setting the alarm to watch live soccer in the middle of the night. 

We sat at Nightjar reflecting on our time and we had the pleasure of drinking some of their delicious cocktail creations. We were joined by some friends and began working our way through the menu. Every cocktail served at Nightjar was an amazing work of art. We could understand why this bar is regarded as one of the best in the world. It was hard to pick out our favourite drink of the night, so I thought I’d share 2 cocktails from our Nightjar experience. One drink which stood out was a cocktail called a “Naked Lady”. This consisted of Santa Teresa Claro Rum, Umeshu (a sour Japanese liqueur), lemon juice, egg white and grenadine. It was a simple drink with a nice, well balanced flavour, but what made this cocktail amazing, was it’s presentation. The use of icing sugar on the outside of the glass and the egg shell floating in the drink made for an interesting look. The egg shell was filled with tiny easter eggs and the foam created by shaking the egg white, made it strong enough to hold the weight of the shell. Along with the egg shell, was an assortment of berries, which added to the overall presentation of the drink. The recipe itself was quite simple, but the presentation made this cocktail fun and was certainly a conversation point with us all. Another cocktail which blew us away with it’s unique design was a drink called “Chicha Morada”. This consisted of vodka, sherry, date syrup and Peruvian blue corn soda. Again, another simple recipe, but the fact that it came out to our table served inside a butternut pumpkin and topped off with berries almost made the taste irrelevant. The cocktail looked so impressive it was almost too good to drink.  Every drink we ordered at Nightjar was a mystery as to how it would be served. It made for a fun filled evening with friends as we celebrated our last night in the UK.

As mentioned, Our time in the UK has been unforgettable. But our trip is far from done. Next stop... Iceland!!

“Naked Lady”
In a shaker:
45ml Santa Teresa Claro Rum
15ml Umeshu Liqueur
15ml Lemon Juice
Dash of Egg White
Dash of Grenadine
Shake Hard and Strain into Cocktail glass

“Chicha Morada”
Build inside a Butternut Pumpkin:
60ml Vodka
15ml Sherry
15ml Date Syrup
Add Crushed Ice
Top with Peruvian Blue Corn Soda
Garnish with Berries

Friday, 29 March 2013

Discovering Bath & Bristol

Well it’s getting towards the end of our UK adventure, but before we depart we had time for one last trip. We decided to visit the city of Bristol and the near by town of Bath. These places had been highly recommended to us by many friends. I’d also read a lot about Bristol’s cocktail culture. Several articles have said that some of the bars in Bristol rival the top places in London. So we jumped on a train and headed west towards Bristol. 

When I researched what there was to see in Bristol, I was impressed with the many museums and galleries that seemed to be on offer. Over the past couple of years, Cara and I have had our fare share exploring museums, so we decided to do something a little different. I’d heard about Bristol’s famous “Nelson St”, before our visit. A once dark and dirty road which had been turned into a vibrant display space for street art. The project was called “See No Evil” and it is the largest outdoor street art display in the UK. The display was only opened in August 2012. It involved 45 graffiti artists, 3,500 cans of spray paint spread over 12 buildings along Nelson Street.  It was certainly an impressive site. We had to  walk down the road twice, as when you walked from the top of the road to the bottom, you only saw half of the designs. When we turned around and walked back, the street took on a whole new look, as new pieces emerged. 

As our day of exploring Bristol came to a close, It was time for us to start thinking about where we would have dinner and which of Bristols many bars we’d visit and review.  A highly recommended restaurant on Bristol’s waterfront was the “Severnshed”. This converted boat shed offered an extensive dinner menu offering many different cuisines, which suit us perfectly as we’d worked up quite an appetite during a day of walking around Bristol.  There cocktail menu was impressive too. A selection of classics, variations on classics and around 5 or 6 of the house signatures, meant we had plenty to choose from but without being to overwhelmed with choice.  Cara continued her love for gin and ordered a drink called a “Gin Honey Sour”. The variation on the classic sour, consisting of Beefeater Gin, pink grapefruit juice, a squeeze of honey, lemon juice, sugar syrup and one egg white. In the past I’ve found ‘sours’ a type of drink that can be easily made badly. Sometimes, bartenders feel the need to take the name ‘sour’ to literally and cram to much lemon juice into the drink. but it is in fact the sugar which is the secret to a good sour. Fortunately this “Gin Honey Sour”, had the perfect balance of lemon and sugar. To compliment this, was the grapefruit and the honey which gave the drink some body and changed it from just being a plan old ‘sour’, into something unique.  

After a great meal and satisfing cocktails, we ventured across to the other side of Bristol to visit a little prohibition style bar called “Hyde & Co”. This bar also was highly recommended and boasted weird and wonderful creations and unique alterations to prohibition classics.  We had a few different drinks but one which stood out to us was a cocktail called a “Confire”. This drink was made up of Chairmans Reserve Rum, Blanco Vermouth, rhubarb syrup, a dash of lemon juice, Chartreuse and a dash of egg white. Chartreuse is often a difficult spirit to use in cocktails due to it’s over powering nature. But this was subtle. What really came through strongly in this drink was the rhubarb syrup. This gave the drink a nice sweetness was balanced out well with the lemon juice and the egg white gave the cocktail a smooth, fluffy texture which made it a pleasure to drink. After a great dinner and some amazing cocktails we returned to our hotel, ready for another big day visiting the small town of Bath.  

This little town is around 15 minutes on the train outside of Bristol. By far the main tourist attraction is the Roman Baths. As Cara and I got of the train and made our way in toward the Roman Baths. We were instantly impressed with the architecture which lined the streets leading up to the baths. As we arrived, I was in photography mode as the neighbouring Bath Abbey was a site you couldn't miss. After many photos and much exploring outside the site of the baths, We entered the site of the ancient ruins, and straight away we could feel the warmth coming from the hot springs. It was a nice change from another bitterly cold british day.  We learnt that the baths were first discovered in 836 BC, but it wasn't until after the Roman invasion, around 60 AD, that construction of the temples and surrounding baths began. Over the next 300 years the Romans would gradually build the site up and around the hot springs to create a place of spiritual meaning and healing.  As we continued to explore, we noticed the many statues and figures on display, all with their own story and special meaning in Roman history. Most notably was the statue of Julus Ceasar, which was positioned at the head of the "Grand Bath".  We continued on through past the Sacred Spring and underground through the many temples to finally at the end have the chance to taste some of the (so called) fresh water which was taken from the Sacred spring. Unfortunatly this was not one of the tastiest beverages we've had on our travels. Dispite the dodgy sacred water, Cara and I both had an amazing day. We got to (as was mentioned several times on the tour) "Do as the Romans did" and enjoy walking around the beautiful hot springs.

We headed back to Bristol for the night and got our selfs ready for our last trip back to London. We are always excited to do something different on our trips, and our visit to Bristol and Bath gave us a chance to see some amazing street art in Bristol, walk in the footsteps of the Romans in Bath and have some delicious food and some quirky cocktails.

“Gin Honey Sour”

In a shaker:
45ml Beefeater gin
30ml Pink Grapefruit juice
A Teaspoon of Honey
15ml lemon juice
15ml Sugar syrup
1 Egg white
Shake hard and strain into cocktail glass


In a shaker:
30ml Chairmans Reserve Rum
15ml Blanco Vermouth
15ml Rhubard syrup
A Dash of Lemon Juice
10ml Chartreuse
Dash of egg white
Shake well and strain into cocktail glass

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

“Whats the Craic" in Ireland

Spending time in the UK would not be complete without taking a short trip to Ireland. We could not think of a better time to visit the 'Celtic' country, than St Patricks Day. But in Ireland, it's not just one day, Its a week long St Patricks festival. We decided to catch the ferry across to Dublin, leaving from the Welsh coast line town of Holyhead. Once in Dublin, we took a train to the south of Ireland to spend the famous Irish holiday in Cork. We would later finish out the festival in Dublin, but for now it was on to Cork.

March 17th every year is the day that the Irish honour there most well known patron saint, St Patrick. Before the day became more about singing, dancing and drinking Guinness, the day was a religious holiday to celebrate St Patrick bringing Christianity to Ireland. The culture of eating and drinking to excess on St Pats day all stemmed from the church lifting lent restrictions and allowing people to consume as much as they wanted on this one day. In Ireland, many parades and church services take place to honour St. Patrick. Countries all over the world now celebrate the holiday, but I doubt many people celebrated it for the same religious reasons. Cara and I soaked up the atmosphere in Cork. Everyone was in high spirits and excited to get the party underway. We explored the city and waited for the parade to start. After the local parade, which included schools, sporting clubs and other community groups, we set off to check out some of the local pubs and celebrate with a Guinness or two and have a sing along with the Irish. All the pubs and the streets were packed. It was a sight that we’d never seem before, and probably will never see again.  

After a crazy St Patricks Day in Cork, We decided to venture back to Dublin, where we would visit the famous Guinness Brewery, to learn more about the most popular beverage over the St Pats festival, not to mention, It's also the most popular stout in the world to date.  The St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin is the birth place of Guinness. It was founded by Arthur Guinness in 1759. Over the next 10 years Arthur Guinness brewed his secret recipe of Irish Stout and sold it to the locals in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Ten years after first founding his brewery, Arthur began exporting his brew. He sent his very first shipment,  of 6 and a half barrels, to England.  It was an instant hit with the British. The beer continued to expand and grow and Arthur Guinness passed on his secret recipe on the his grandson, Benjamin who has continued to pass it on, keeping the secret within the family even today. 100 years after Arthur founded his brewery in 1859, the value of the company was estimated to be worth over 1 million pounds, which made Guinness the largest brewing company in the World. Although today, Guinness is no longer the largest brewing company in the world, it is still by far, the most popular and biggest selling stout in the world.  So after a quick history lesson and a tour through the brewery, It was time for Cara and I to go up to the famous "Skybar" where everyone receives 2 free pints of guinness to enjoy whilst gazing over the Dublin city skyline. People have told us that the further this beer travels away from the brewery in Dublin, the worse it tastes. I can confirm this, as i've never been a guinness drinker in Australia, as I've found the quality to be quite poor. But certainly in the UK, I've had the odd pint or 2 of guinness and the taste has improved considerably. I can safely say that drinking this beer at the brewery itself, the flavour improved even more. It's creamy texture and rich flavour, makes it by far the best pint of guinness i've ever had. Even for Cara, who is not a massive beer drinker, could appreciate this stout. It was truly delicious. 

After our tour of the Guinness brewery, we continued to explore Dublin. Many of the pubs and bars had live Irish folk music and Irish dancing. There was something special about being in Ireland for the St Patricks Day Festival. The people love to celebrate their national holiday and they're all very welcoming to the many tourists, like ourselves, who make the trip, especially at this time of year.  We returned to London the next day with fond memories of an unforgettable trip to Ireland.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

The Worlds Best Cocktail Menu

We returned to London, after our short trip to the South, we were looking forward to exploring some more of the city’s top bars.  A place which was at the top of our list was a bar called “Callooh Callay”.  This bar was recently awarded (in my opinion) one of the highest honors in the cocktail bar world, “Best Cocktail Menu” in the world.  What makes a top cocktail menu I hear you ask? It's many things. Design and layout come into play, but mainly it comes down to the drinks them self. Bars who wish to win this accolade as Best Cocktail Menu, spend many hours researching consumer trends and fads, but still keep trying to push the boundaries with new ideas. The menu is constantly evolving due to what fruits and ingredients are in season and easy to obtain during certain times of the year. But most of all, the cocktails on a menu, must appeal to customers and keep them returning again for new drinking experiences. Industry experts thought that in 2012, "Callooh Callay" did this better than anywhere else in the world. So naturally Cara and I had to find out. 

We walked into a jammed packed bar. Unfortunately for us, not a spare seat to be found. However we were able to stand at the bar and watch the bartenders pump out drinks for the punters. As the famous menu was handed to us, we were instantly impressed by the unique layout of the list. The menu had been designed as a colour swatch book. It fanned out in front of us, with each colour on the menu, representing another cocktail.  Our first thoughts... It came across a little tacky, but it was hardly designed to be classy. It was designed to be fun, which it was. After browsing through the swatch book for quite some time, we each picked a cocktail that stood out to us. As it had been a usual cold day in London, Cara had picked a drink called "Grow a Pear". It was a cocktail which was served hot and consisted of Bacardi 8 year old rum, Rhubarb liqueur, pear puree, a pinch of cinnamon, almond syrup, lime juice, apple pieces and finally a dash of the London cocktail society's own "Christmas Bitters". This cocktail was like have a jazzed up 'Hot Toddy'. It was a perfect winter cocktail to have on a cold London day. It was fruity and sweet, but the pinch of cinnamon give it a subtle spicy after taste which made the drink unique and fun to drink. I was drawn to one of the award winning cocktails on Callooh Callay's menu, the "Ale of Two Cites". I was attracted to this drink due to it's use of the 42 Below Feijoa vodka, which I know from experience, can be very tough to use in cocktails due to it's over powering nature. This cocktail consisted of the Feijoa vodka, Punt e Mes (dark brown Italian vermouth), lime juice, apple juice, wild nettle cordial, and malt syrup. This mixture was all shaken together and served in a half pint glass, making for an interesting looking beer. I was pleasantly surprised that the Feijoa vodka didn’t take over at all. It was a perfectly balanced drink. It had a slight sour and citrus taste, with the flavours of the vodka lingering longer than anything else. Overall it was quite easy to drink. The only criticism is due to it being served in a beer glass, it didn’t look very appealing, and with no garnish the presentation did let it down a little. However it was still and enjoyable and most importantly, it tasted great. 

We departed from 'Callooh Callay’, satisfied that we'd seen enough and that we could tick it off the list of bars we must visit before leaving the UK. The menu was everything we had come to expect from a world class cocktail list. The drinks we’re creative, there was something for everyone and the presentation was unique. Maybe, before we arrive back to Australia, we may come across other menu which could rival the worlds best. 

“Grow a Pear”
Served Hot
30ml Bacardi 8 year old Rum
15ml Briottet Rhubarb Liqueur
15ml Pear puree
Pinch of Cinnamon
15ml Almond Syrup
15ml Lime juice
2 - 3 Pieces of Apple
Dash of London cocktail society christmas Bitters
Fill to the top with hot water and stir

“Ale of Two Cities”
In a shaker:
30ml 42 Below Feijoa
15ml Punt e Mes (Italian Vermouth)
15ml Lime Juice
30ml Apple Juice
Dash of Wild Nettle Cordial
Dash of Malt syrup
Shake with ice and strain into a half pint glass

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The Plymouth Gin Distillery

A place we had on our list of towns and cities to go and visit in the UK (but have not yet had the chance) was Plymouth. When we told people that we really wanted to go to Plymouth, they seemed to all reply with the same questions, Why? What is there to see? and our response was always “Isn’t it obvious? The Plymouth Gin Distillery”.  Before coming to the UK, Cara probably would not have been to bothered about visiting a gin distillery, but she’s recently became very fond of a gin and tonic. So drinking “G&T’s” at Plymouth sounded like a great idea. Aside from our own personal love for gin, it is also one of the most popular spirits in the UK, so visiting the home of the most popular gin going around, it felt like a very ‘british’ thing to do.

Plymouth distillery has been producing gin since 1793. It is the oldest distillery still operating in the UK. The distillery itself is even older. Built in 1431, it was originally a monastery until the site was sold to distilling company, Fox & Williamson in 1793, when they began producing gin. In the years to come, gin would grow rapidly in popularity, due to it’s low cost. At one point, gin was cheaper than beer. Plymouth led the market producing top quality gin and began exporting it all over europe and then the world. It’s clean and fresh taste was largely due to the distillers sourcing natural fresh water from nearby Dartmoor National park. At the start of the 1900’s, Plymouth received another boost to it’s popularity when it became the only brand name to be specified in the famous “Savoy Cocktail Book”. 23 gin cocktails were listed in the book. Today, Plymouth is one of the most awarded spirits in the world, winning several gold medals at the annual San Francisco World Spirits Competition. 

Plymouth’s standard strength, is 41.2% alcohol. This gin is said to have a more earthy flavours. It contains seven key botanicals, juniper, sweet orange, cardamon, angelica root, orris root and pure grain.   It’s described as having a soft and fruity taste with hints of sage and eucalyptus. Me personally, I find it hard to distinguish between different gins. But Plymouth Gin, certainly does have a clean and crisp finish which can only be found in the higher quality spirits.  

Today the distillery is complete with a restuarant and a cocktail bar stocking some of the best gins in the UK, as well as the full Plymouth range. After looking around the distillery, we decided to check out the bar and have a Plymouth gin cocktail. We could have ordered one of their signature creations, but we decided to go with a classic, and by far one of the most well know gin cocktails of all time is a “Tom Collins”.  This famous cocktail consists of Gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup and soda water. It was invented in 1876 by the godfather of American mixology, Jerry Thomas. It’s origin stems back to a practical joke played on people in bars in New York and it soon spread to other bars across America. The joke was when you greeted someone in a bar, you would ask “Have you seen Tom Collins?” when the person replies, “I don’t know anyone under the name Tom Collins”, you would then say “Well Tom was talking about you in a bar around the corner”. This would then give the person a little bit of paranoia. It was a simple joke, but one which was often told in many bars. Once Jerry Thomas invented the cocktail, the joke became a funny way of ordering this classic gin drink.  The cocktail was not only popular due to the joke, it was a great refreshing drink. Jerry Thomas could have named this cocktail anything and it still would have been just as well known. The simple mix of gin, lemons and sugar gave you the perfect balance of something dry, sour and sweet. A great cocktail to drink in the summer. 

We had both eaten a massive lunch during and visit to Plymouth distillery, so when it was time to sit back and relax, we were glad to be drinking a refreshing “Tom Collins”. We had a great time visiting Plymouth Gin Distillery. It was definitely well worth the visit. The distillery has changed with the times and is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in Plymouth. I know Plymouth is a popular gin in Australia, so once we return home, I’ll see this gin as a fond reminder of our time here.

“Tom Collins”

Built in a tall glass
45ml Plymouth Gin
15ml Sugar Syrup
30ml Lemon Juice
Topped up with Soda Water

Monday, 4 March 2013

Returning to London

When we first came to London almost 2 years ago, the city seemed exciting and also very overwhelming. Back then, Cara and I were also very focused on establishing ourselves with a place to live and a new job to begin. London now feels like our second home. The once intimidating London underground train, is now a piece of cake. It was almost like we’d never left.  As we return to London after six months in Glasgow, we felt more relaxed than ever and felt like we could just enjoy our time. We had no pressure to find a home or a job, and as we’d done much our sight seeing in our first stint living in the countries capital, we had the freedom to relax and catch up with friends and family. 

Naturally, one of the things we wanted to do this time around in London is check out as many quirky and different cocktail bars as we could. We’d already visited many bars throughout our time, but we hadn't even scratched the surface of what London has to offer. We decided to head to Shoreditch, an area which is located just north of the city centre. It’s a part of London which just recently has become famous for it’s trendy cocktail bars and nightlife. Having only been to this part of the city briefly once before, we decided to catch up with some old friends and explore the Shoreditch area some more.

Our first stop was the "Hoxton Pony" cocktail Bar. It was here where we ordered a lesser known classic, the “Louisiana Jam Jar”. The Jam jar is a cocktail made famous in New Orleans, a city known for it’s partying. It's also famous for being the birth place of Southern Comfort. Southern Comfort was first invented by bartender Martin Wilkes in 1874. Bourbon whiskey back then was not always nice to drink, so Martin decided to turn this into bourbon liqueur making it sweeter and easier to drink.  As it's popularity grew, many cocktails were invented using Southern Comfort. Many of these drinks were often served in jam jars, which was a common theme in New Orleans during the late 1800’s.  No one is sure for certain who came up with the original recipe for the Louisiana Jam Jar, but we know that it is a relatively modern classic, which was designed to pay tribute to Southern Comfort and the city of New Orleans. It is made up of Southern Comfort, lemon juice, apple juice, a teaspoon of apricot jam, sugar syrup and a handful of mint leaves. It’s a fun and creative cocktail which will go down a treat with the bourbon lovers. But even if you are not a fan of Southern Comfort, this cocktail is still enjoyable for almost everyone.  The “SoCo” is not over powering, which lets the apple and lemon juice come through, making it quite citrusy and refreshing. The apricot jam and the mint are subtle flavours and they add another dimension to this cocktail. Trying to pick all the differing flavours in a cocktail like this always makes for an enjoyable drinking experience.

As we continued to explore Shoreditch, we decided to head to a bar which I’d heard of many times, as it was ranked number 11 in the latest poll of the ‘Worlds Top 50 Bars’. This was a little place on Hoxton Square called “Happiness Forgets”.  I was excited to order one of their signature cocktails, so I chose a drink called the “Overdraft”. This cocktail consisted of Banks 5 Island Rum, Rhum* Orange, lime juice and clove bitters, shaken and served into a chilled martini glass. It was described in the menu as being “Robust and Refreshing”, which i guess it was, but ‘refreshing’ would not be a word i’d use to describe this drink. Robust? Definitely yes... This was a cocktail which was strong in flavours and required you to sip it slowly to fully appreciate it’s taste. It was surprisingly sweet and the after taste of the clove bitters gave it a unique complexity. 

As is usual when going out in London, you find yourself having to hurry to catch the last train, so we decided to call it a night. It was great to get out and about again in London. There are many things we missed about the city. I’m sure we’ll fit in a few more outings around town before we depart.

* Rhum is a by-product of Rum. Rum is made from molasses of sugar cane, where as Rhum is only the juice of the sugar cane. The taste can often be very different.

"Louisiana Jam Jar”

In a Jam Jar glass (Or tall highball glass):
45ml Southern Comfort
15ml Lemon Juice
15ml Apple Juice
15ml Sugar Syrup
Teaspoon of Apricot jam
Handful of mint leaves
Fill the Jar with crushed ice and stir ingredients together
Garnish with a sprig of Mint

Happiness Forgets, Hoxton Square:

In a shaker:
30ml Banks 5 Island Rum
15ml Rhum Orange
15ml Lime Juice
15ml Sugar Syrup
Dash of Clove Bitters
Shake and Strain into Martini Glass

Saturday, 2 March 2013

A Night in Liverpool

Well... What can I say about the city of Liverpool? As we arrived, We instantly noticed the typical ’Scouse’ traits. The girls dressed up with fake tan and big hair, the blokes with trendy designer labels and flawlessly styled hair. Aside from the fashion, Liverpool is famous for being the home to pop music in the UK. It was labelled by the Guinness World Records Book as being the “World Capital City of Pop". Which is understandable, the city is the birth place to bands and musicians like The Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, along with many others. 

Liverpool is also known to have the best nightlife in the UK, better than rival cities, London and Manchester. So Cara and I were excited to head out and see what made Liverpool’s nightlife so great. We spent the day exploring the city, visiting places like the famous Liverpool Cathedral, the Merseyside docks and of course a walk past the “Cavern Club”, home of the Beatles. We returned to our hotel and quickly got ready to hit the town at night.  We noticed that Liverpool has a huge nightclub scene. Along with the clubs, there are also many pubs (which is a standard feature in cities throughout the UK), there seemed to be a lack of high end quality cocktail bars. However, there was one place, that all the guides and reviews online mentioned was a must see bar. This place is called “Alma de Cuba”. This was a bar which had been built inside an old cathedral. It has been said to be one of the best looking bars in the UK. As we made our way through the Cathedral’s front doors, we saw the bar, which was positioned in the centre of the building (where the aisle of the would usually be). On one side of this island style bar was a more relaxed lounge type set up. Whereas the other side of the bar was designed to be more of a stand up area, with a couple of high tables and small booths running along the churches wall.  The far end of the cathedral was a small stage where a jazz band was about to start playing. As Cara and I took found a seat in one of the booths, we were amazed by the “mish-mash” decor. Many elements of the old existing church still remained, but there was now added features such as palm trees, along with other cuban influenced details. The menu was also a combination of Cuban flair with a religious twist. The first page of the menu was a ‘tongue in cheek’ version of the 10 commandments starting with “Love thy neighbour...they may be drunk”.

When Cara and I sit down at bars, we tend to look around the room and see what other people are drinking. It’s usually a mixture of beers, wines, mixed spirits and cocktails, but at Alma de Cuba, almost everyone was holding a cocktail. This could only mean one thing... Their cocktails were good. Cara kicked it off with ordering an Alma original, a drink called a “Kingston Crush”. This tiki inspired cocktail consisted of Appleton Estate VX rum, muddled pieces of watermelon, pineapple juice, lime juice and frozen chunks of grapefruit, shaken and strained over crushed ice. It was lastly topped up with ginger beer. These types of cocktails can be dangerous. Not in the sense that it’s high in alcohol, but dangerous because it’s not. This drink was fruity, refreshing and very tasty. You could hardly taste the rum. It’s a drink that you could have half a dozen very easily. But the rum was not going to ly down with out a fight. If you were to down six of these fruity concoctions, it would hit you hard. It’s hard to go wrong with this mixture of watermelon, pineapple and lime, they are always popular ingredients.  But the use of grapefruit and the fizzing finish of ginger, makes this drink a little different then your standard tiki cocktail. It was perfect for Cara. A nice fruity, refreshing cocktail, one which would quench the thirst after an afternoon exploring Liverpool.

I decided to consult the bartender and ask him to make me his signature drink. When a bartender is asked to make their own creations, you can guarantee that little extra bit of love, care and attention will  be put into that drink. His creation was a cocktail called “Mrs Jones’s Breakfast”, a drink which was inspired by his mother. The bartender explained to me that when his mum made him breakfast throughout his childhood, she’d serve up cereal covered in pieces of grapefruit and apricots and sprinkled with sugar on top. He recreated this meal in the form of a drink by starting with Aperol,   followed by Elderflower liqueur, Caradores Blanco (Tequila), a dash of grapefruit juice and lemon juice. It was all shaken together with ice and strained over into a sugar rimmed glass. It was a simple concoction but one which was well thought through and well executed. Each ingredient complemented the other nicely. It wasn’t to sweet, or sour, or bitter.  Even the non-tequila drinkers would love this cocktail. I thanked the bartender for sharing his story. A cocktail seems to always taste better when it has a story and not just thrown together randomly.

As we made our way back to our hotel, we could see the surrounding nightclubs were getting into full swing. We were both glad we got the chance to visit Liverpool, even if it was only for a short time. We had an early start to the next day, as we were returning to a place, which now feels like our second home. We were going back to London.

“Kingston Crush”
In a shaker:
Muddle 3 - 4 chunks of watermelon
15ml Lime Juice
60ml Appleton Estate VX Rum
30ml Pineapple juice
3 - 4 Pieces of Frozen Grapefruit
Shake firmly and strain over crushed ice
Top up with Ginger Beer

"Mrs. Jones’s Breakfast”
In a shaker:
15ml Cazadores Blanco Tequila
15ml Elderflower Liqueur
30ml Aperol
15ml Grapefruit juice
15ml lemon juice
Rim short glass with white sugar
Shake and strain into the glass over ice