We won’t lie, we absolutely adore this time of year. Not only is winter fashion far more interesting and elegant than flimsy summer outfits and flip-flops, the drinks get our thumbs up too. The minute the nights start drawing in and the temperature begins to drop, that’s our cue to turn up the intensity dial on the colour of our spirits. Think deliciously warming, voluptuous drinks like whisky and in particular, bourbon.
We’ve developed quite a taste for Woodford Reserve Craft Bourbon. What’s not to like about an award-winning liquid handcrafted in small batches for a soft, sweet oak flavour? Just the ticket to add the depth, sophistication and complexity required to embrace the current trend for big boy classic American cocktails such as Manhattans, Old Fashioneds and Juleps, its lightly spiced floral characteristics lends itself to clever twists on the time-honoured favourites as well.
No wonder London’s top bartenders love working with it. “People think dark spirits are going to be heavy and overly rich,” says Matt Roberts of Powder Keg Diplomacy, a justifiably busy but welcoming neighbourhood restaurant and bar which bases its cocktail list on long forgotten classics. “But the higher rye content in Woodford Reserve means it can stand up for itself while it also mixes well with other complex ingredients,” he continues. He’s right. Woodford Reserve and spirit company BBFB have been working with some of the hottest bars in London to create a selection of cool, contemporary whiskey cocktails designed to tease out the characteristics of the Woodford Reserve Maple Wood Finish, New Age Cask Rye and Aged Cask Rye offerings. And luckily for us, we got to try them out:
The bars and serves:
Bourbon in Bloom: a delicious punch for discerning drinkers to share at Powder Keg Diplomacy, Battersea
From the deep, warming colour to the rich, spicy taste everything about the Bourbon in Bloom makes you want to cosy up and settle down for winter. And where better to do that than this fabulous venue which recently celebrated its first anniversary? Influenced by colonial Britain and muddled with just the right balance of urban elegance, the tongue in chic restaurant and bar prides itself on serving up an imaginative food and drinks menu inspired by Victorian recipes.
The Bourbon in Bloom is a delight, deftly balancing Woodford Reserve with blackberries, hibiscus tea, Semillon dessert wine and maple syrup with All Spice Dram for body and a touch of lemon juice to freshen it all up. The punch tempts your nostrils even before the specially commissioned bowl hits the table and once positioned in front of you, your eyes get a treat as well. The colour is what fashion folk go mad for: a deep, rich berry shade that is instantly warming and comforting. It’s dotted with rosebud-like lemon twists spiked onto bamboo sticks, plump, juicy blackberries and huge blocks of ice. “So guests can enjoy it over time without there being too much dilution,” explains Matt.
Ms S says:
This drink ticks all the boxes as far as I’m concerned: it looks the business, smells fantastic, is designed to be shared and tastes like an absolute dream. With just the right sweet/spice ratio to tease out the rye content of this particular bourbon it’s like a cold, sophisticated take on mulled wine. I love the fact it’s served in mis-matched china teacups with a plump blackberry providing all the garnish you need.
Mr G says:
Bourbon In Bloom is exactly what I want punch to be – full of character and shouting ‘drink me’. It looks appealing, has a rich, seductive aroma and the balance is spot on. There’s a little bit of sweetness and some spice but with all the ingredients being very respectful towards the Woodford Reserve which delivers a big flavour and lots of depth in the finish. Very drinkable indeed and very sociable.
Powder Keg Diplomacy, 146 St. John’s Hill, SW11 1TQ. T: 020 7450 6457. powderkegdiplomacy.co.uk.
East Meets West: a refreshing, fruity twist on the julep at Montgomery Place, Notting Hill
The East Meets West Julep has been a best-seller on the menu at Montgomery Place since it won the Whisky Cocktail Challenge in 2005. Which won’t come as much of a surprise once you’ve tasted it. With its harmonious blend of Woodford Reserve, pomegranate, Lebanese honey and fresh mint, it’s an absolute corker. Just like the bar itself. It’s a smallish, very intimate space – perfect for romantic trysts in the moodily lit corners at the back or for pulling up a stool and watching the action up front.
We went for the latter. Obviously. From this vantage point we were able to chat with Fabio La Pietra as he mixed up our drinks, giving us the opportunity to find out more about the cocktail in question. “It’s a good drink that appeals to a wide range of our customers,” he says as he serves it up in a misty, ice cold tankard. “The mint is refreshing, the pomegranate adds an agreeable tang and honey give it just the right level of sweetness.” As for the Woodford Reserve? Well, that just brings everything together rather nicely thank you very much. “It’s our house serve,” continues La Pietra. “The balance and characteristics of Woodford Reserve lends itself to cocktails and works really well as an introduction to bourbon.” We couldn’t agree more.
Ms S says:
A fabulous twist to your typical julep or smash, this decidedly moreish cocktail is given a fragrant makeover with the addition of pomegranate. The tankard comes across quite masculine but ladies, don’t let that put you off, the honey in the drink and the colourful pomegranate garnish gives it a feminine but not too girly touch.
Mr G says:
This is a truly quaffable drink. Like the venue it manages to be smart, dark and sophisticated but with a playful side. I liked the refreshing look of the ice cold tankard, the voluptuousness of the pomegranate and the minty aroma. But the real pleasure is the strength of the bourbon that comes through in every delicious sip.
Montgomery Place, 31 Kensington Park Road, W11 2EU. T: 020 7792 3921. montgomeryplace.co.uk.
Kentucky Cornrow: Maple-smoked Woodford Reserve with Amaretto, peach bitters, maple syrup and Greek yoghurt tincture at Nightjar, Shoreditch.
Mention Nightjar and cocktail fans come over all misty-eyed and reverential, that’s partly due to the mix of old-school glamour in the décor department and partly down to the cleverly crafted liquid concoctions to be found on the menu. The combination clearly works. Since opening in 2010, Nightjar has received all manner of accolades including ‘Best New Bar’ in the Class Awards 2011 and third Best Bar in the World in Drinks International Magazine’s World’s 50 Best Bars 2012 award. Little wonder really. It’s a classy, seated-only affair inspired by the Golden Age of jazz with live music from the era providing the perfect backdrop to the moodily-lit space.
The Kentucky Cornrow is a fine example of the mostly rare, sometimes revived and always imaginative cocktails to be found on the menu. Its creator Marian Beke shakes up Woodford Reserve, maple syrup, peach bitters Amaretto and a hint of Nightjar Greek yoghurt tincture to create a genius of a cocktail that resembles very milky tea, served with an Oreo cookie garnish and a handful of popcorn on the side. There’s a playful air to the presentation but the taste is serious stuff.
Ms S says:
This is a fantastic drink – it’s one of those that when people see it arrive at your table, they’ll want to order one all to themselves. Taste-wise, it’s an absolute dream: just the right balance of sweet and sour to satisfy both male and female palates; light and refreshing to quench your thirst. Bonus points for the Oreo cookie; what’s not to like about that?
Mr G says:
This is a real head-turner of a drink. It looks like something the Mad Hatter would serve up at his tea party if he was entertaining the grown-ups. But this is not style over content. Quite the opposite. The ingredients combine to produce a really original experience, the amaretto in particular complimenting the Woodford Reserve nicely. A great drink to order for someone who thinks they don’t like bourbon.
Nightjar, 129 City Road, EC1V 1JB. T: 020 7253 4101. barnightjar.com.
The Churchill Downs: the perfect accompaniment to meaty treats at Burger & Lobster, Soho
For proof that the simplest ideas are often the best, check out the constant stream of happy punters at Burger & Lobster. Always busy, always bustling it’s a testament to the growing trend for restaurants keeping their menus sparse and the quality high. Walk-ins are the way to go here, so unless you go early in the day for your burger, lobster or lobster roll (with great thin chips and a rather tasty side salad, all for the flat price of £20), expect to spend a good half an hour or so waiting at the bar. Which is not a bad thing. Far from it. From the long central bar which takes pride of place in the room you’re right in the heart of the party atmosphere. You’re also perfectly positioned to sample the cocktails, designed to complement either the burger or lobster options.
We were ‘doing’ burgers so primed our palates with The Churchill Downs, a harmonious blend of Woodford Reserve, apricot, lemon, honey and sugar. Without it’s meaty sidekick it slipped down like a dream; but when we ordered another to savour with our burgers (boy, are they good), each ingredient comes into its own.
Ms S says:
Burgers and bourbon are a match made in heaven; if you haven’t made the connection, make it your mission to do so right now. But you need premium ingredients. The insanely good burgers here come into their own with Woodford Reserve bourbon and in The Churchill Downs in particular. The honey and sugar complements the meaty action of the burger exceptionally well.
Mr G says:
Unfussy and a perfect accompaniment to my meal. Long and easy drinking it held its own alongside the burger, the fries and even the salad. The more I sipped the more I got from it. I particularly liked the hint of apricot which worked fabulously with the Woodford Reserve and complimented the spicy elements of the meal perfectly.
Burger & Lobster, 36 Dean Street, W1D 4PS. T: 020 7432 4800. burgerandlobster.com.
To bring classic American cocktails to your bar visit: