Last year’s rumblings that Britain had reached peak gin have been completely confounded by recent events. Though it’ll take time for accurate figures to emerge, it looks like we threw down G&Ts in record numbers this year – not to mention making our own Martinis, Negronis and Gimlets as everyone became their own bartenders during lockdown. Now that life is returning to the city and bars are reopening, it’s high time we handed cocktail duties back to the professionals. These are some of the best spots to drink the nation’s favourite gloom-lifter as we slide from summer to autumn.
Harry’s Dolce Vita, Knightsbridge
This newcomer to the gin scene is in residence at Harry’s Dolce Vita all through September, offering a festive list of Italian accented cocktails to enjoy on the terrace in the late summer sun. O’Ndina is made with Ligurian basil, thyme, and sage – which lends it a fresh and earthy character. It shows particularly well in the Basilica Sour where it comes supported by Grand Marnier, lime juice, and fresh basil leaves. Just the thing to thing to drink while you’re eating crab and Amalfi lemon risotto and Instagraming a picture of that desert that looks like a mushroom but is actually full of pistachios.
If you can’t get to Knightsbridge it’s still worth copping a bottle of O’Ndina for its potential as a cocktail ingredient. That grownup flavour profile will make it a natural match for bitter Italian aperitivi like Aperol and Cynar in a spritz or fizz. Failing that, just pour a large measure over lots of ice, top with a little Mediterranean tonic, and garnish with a sprig of Basil – ideally from Liguria but from Sainsburys is probably fine too.
East London Liquor Co., Bethnal Green
After a long and difficult summer one of London’s great craft institutions is once again open for visitors. This landmark brand has won plaudits for its demerara rum, Californian rye whisky, and even its own single malt since it first launched in 2014 but gin remains at the heart of the operation. £35 will get you a tour of the stillhouse that breaks down the distillation process from start to finish and concludes with a gin tasting. If you’re still thirsty after all that it’s worth throwing down a few cocktails at the bar and ordering some snacks. The Red Snapper – a Bloody Mary made infinitely better by the subtraction of vodka and the addition of gin – has always been excellent.
For anyone not within striking distance of the distillery bar the ELLC will post you out a bottle of any of their house spirits. Of particular interest to Juniperists nationwide will be their new range of ready to drink cocktails. Notable among them is a picnic friendly grapefruit G&T and an elderflower Collins produced in collaboration with bottled cocktail firm Black Lines. Not to be missed.
Drink Al Fresco at Bar Termini, Soho
Along with gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth soared during the recent lockdown as we proved without a doubt what the cocktail of 2020 is. At Termini you can nab table on recently pedestrianised Old Compton Street and enjoy Negroni with a difference. Pre-batched with additional botanicals, cooked sous vide to concentrate their flavour, and served chilled from the fridge – the Termini Negroni are something else. Particularly recommended are the long-aged robusto – as intense and complex as it sounds – and the superiore which is flavoured with pink peppercorns for fruitiness and warmth. If Soho’s a schlep you can buy bottles of their house Negroni online and have them shipped to you or the gin lover in your life.
Gin enthusiasts should also order the Marsala Martini which trades the traditional dry vermouth for Italian fortified wine and the olive for an almond. It comes in a custom-made cocktail coup. That almond has been pickled in Champagne vinegar. Everything at Termini is done with attention to detail and it shows.
Baccarat Bar, Harrods
Just over the way from Harry’s in the basement – sorry, lower ground floor – of Harrods is the intensely opulent Baccarat Bar. This big money partnership between venerable department store and French crystal house opened immediately after social distancing restrictions eased and has been open late every weekend since. Gin is not the sole focus but the innovative cocktail list – which reads at once intriguing and utterly bonkers – shows the old London dry in a totally new light.
Any hardened gin botherer who thinks they’ve seen it all should post up and order ‘The Arrival’ which comprises Hendricks, sugar snap pea distillate, and rice oil which is all apparently then carbonated. Oh, and it comes in Baccarat crystal flute which you can take home by the pair for £245. Also well worth a look is the Gavel Gimlet which drops the traditional lime cordial in favour of Muscat grape and wood sorrel vermouth. Totally weird and absolutely delicious.
The team at Bruichladdich distillery on Islay gather native botanicals from around the island to create the Botanist. Their efforts result in a complex, herbal spirit with a real sense of place to it. This September will see a series of collaborations between the iconic gin brand and Marylebone pop-up joint Carousel that celebrate the botanicals growing wild around the UK. Intrepid gin fanciers will be invited to join Bruichladdich ambassador and chief mixologist Abi Clephane to forage for cocktail ingredients in the wilds of Hackney Marshes. Tickets are still available and include a picnic from the Carousel kitchens, a lesson in outdoor bartending, and quite possibly the chance to pick your own spruce tips.
You can recreate Abi ‘the queen of pickles’ Clephane’s signature Gibson at home by stirring 70ml of the Botanist with 10ml of Manzanilla Sherry over ice. Once it’s good and cold strain into a frozen cocktail coup and garnish with a silverskin onion or three. She adds that you can pickle your own using flavourings like wild hogseed and foraged ground ivy – but only if you can be bothered.
Come October, chef Craig Grozier of Scottish food evangelists Fallachan will take over the kitchen at Carousel to offer a fine dining menu with a wild side. Expect excellent seafood and well-judged use of things pickled and preserved. Cocktails made with gin and foraged ingredients will feature heavily, including a Collins made with pineapple weed and chamomile. Come on, you haven’t had one of those before. Has to be worth a look, right?