London Cocktail Week 2021: The only five classic cocktails that matter

·7-min read
Let’s twist again: The classic recipes for a Negroni, left, and a Tom Collins can be tinkered with almost endlessly  (Natasha Pszenicki)
Let’s twist again: The classic recipes for a Negroni, left, and a Tom Collins can be tinkered with almost endlessly (Natasha Pszenicki)

London Cocktail Week is here — though it’s sprawled into a booze-soaked month. The biggest cocktail festival in the world, the event is a celebration of the city’s very best drinking spots, with countless bars across the capital stirring, mixing and shaking furiously to be involved. It’s a chance to seek out and sip some of the creations from London’s busiest bartenders — and many are straining out specials for £7.

On the other hand, it can be a head-spinning thing to approach (and that’s not just the hangovers). Given not all of us have been on the margs since birth, here the capital’s finest mixologists explain the five pillars of drinking; these are the stories, recipes and twists on the names everyone knows (even if they don’t know why) and more importantly, the tricks to getting them right. After getting to grips with the basics, head out and get to grips with very best of London Cocktail Week. Happy drinking, and good luck with the mornings.

Tom Collins

Ali Burgess, Happiness Forgets and Ever After

 (Natasha Pszenicki)
(Natasha Pszenicki)

The Tom Collins — kind of a boozy, fresh lemonade — is such a simple drink. It doesn’t require any tools and can be made anywhere, as long as you have the ingredients, ice and a glass. It’s the perfect drink for newcomers and an ideal switch-up for those who usually smash gin and tonics. It’s very easy to twist, too: try adding a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters or simply add some of your favourite fruit. The variations really are endless, so long as you get the balance right. At Ever After, though, we make what we call a Tokyo Collins. It’s based on the classic (I’ve popped that recipe below), but we add three types of citrus — lemon, grapefruit and yuzu — along with gin and soda. Whatever you’re doing with it, always use fresh juice and fill the glass fully with ice.

Where to drink it?

Three Sheets, 510b Kingsland Road, E8, threesheets-bar.com

Satan’s Whiskers, 343 Cambridge Heath Road, E2, satanswhiskers.com

The LCW twist? Roku & Pineapple Collins, £7. Spiritland Royal Festival Hall, SE1, spiritland.com

Ali’s Classic Tom Collins

  • 50ml gin

  • 20ml lemon juice

  • 15ml sugar syrup

  • Soda water

  • Add the gin, lemon juice and sugar syrup to a Collins glass. Fill with ice and garnish with a lemon wedge or cherry.

French 75

Monica Berg, Tayēr + Elementary

 (Natasha Pszenicki)
(Natasha Pszenicki)

I love bubbles and a French 75 is an excellent example of why you should use champagne in cocktails that ask for champagne, and not just substitute in a cheaper option. The French 75 was first published in the Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930. Since then, there have been so many spin-offs — but any kind of spirits, sugar, citrus and champagne situation is something I’m always here for.

It’s delicious and shows that the world of cocktails extends beyond just spirits. It’s a drink that feels fit for celebrations but also when you just want a nice pick-me-up. There is a controversy surrounding whether to use gin or cognac — though there’s a bar in New Orleans called French 75 that sticks strictly to cognac. I like both, but for different seasons, and normally use gin in the spring and summer, with cognac saved for the colder months.

Where to drink it?

Side Hustle, The Nomad, 28 Bow Street, WC2, thenomadhotel.com

Scarfes Bar, 252 High Holborn, WC1, scarfesbar.com

The LCW twist? Is Not A 75, £7, Purl. 50-54 Blandford Street, W1, purl-london.com

The Elementary 75

  • 30ml gin or cognac

  • 10ml lemon juice

  • 5 to 7.5ml rich sugar syrup

  • Top with champagne

  • Shake the first three ingredients and strain them into a chilled flute, before topping with champagne.

Negroni

Nathan McCarley-O’Neill, Claridge’s

 (Natasha Pszenicki)
(Natasha Pszenicki)

By most accounts, the Negroni originated in northern Italy around the beginning of the 20th century, taking its name from two main ingredients, Milan’s campari and Turin’s amaro cora, a sweet vermouth. The drink was a hit with Americans, who enjoyed it with soda, which became known as the Americano. But that’s where the Negroni becomes slightly more muddled.

Some said it was thanks to the Italian-born Count Camillo Negroni that the drink got its name — legend had it that he asked for an Americano with “more of a kick”, so the bartender swapped the soda for gin. The true inventor, however, was General Pascal Olivier Comte De Negroni, a Frenchman who fought in the Franco-Persian War of 1870 — the Negroni family has letters to back it all up. It’s easy to see why more than one person might try to claim the origin story for their own: this is a spectacular cocktail.

The three ingredients, which usually are poured in equal measure (although not always; try my recipe below), are combined so easily that they feel made for each other. It’s a great aperitif: its ingredients get the gastric juices going, which eases digestion.

After mastering the classic recipe, try twisting it. The most recognisable is the Boulevardier, which exchanges gin for bourbon, but most spirits work. Play.

Where to drink it?

Spring, Lancaster Place, WC2, springrestaurant.co.uk

Bar Termini, 7 Old Compton Street, W1, bar-termini-soho.com

The LCW twist? Plum Sake Negroni, £7. Jim And Tonic, 13A North Audley Street, W1, jimandtonic.com

The Painter’s Room Negroni

  • 30ml Campari

  • 20ml The Lakes Gin

  • 15ml Mancino Rosso Amaranto Vermouth

  • 15ml Punt E Mes

  • Build over ice, stir and garnish with an orange slice.

Claridge’s The Cocktail Book, published October 14, £25 hardback (octopusbooks.co.uk)

Martini

Ryan Chetiyawardana, Lyaness

 (Natasha Pszenicki)
(Natasha Pszenicki)

The classic Martini is made with a splash of vermouth and then lots of cold gin or vodka. You might add a peel of lemon or a cocktail stick stacked with olives — it’s an elegant, personal drink, and sharing one with someone important is one of life’s perfect moments.

While it’s not for the faint hearted, the drink can be made accessible when tailored to the setting, and it is infinitely varied — try any gin, vodka or twist (or twists, there can be more than one); we’ve even used bone as the garnish. My favourite is a richer take using a higher proportion of vermouth.

Where to drink it?

Duke’s, 35 St James’s Place, St James’s, SW1, dukeshotel.com

Claridge’s Bar, Brook Street, W1, claridges.co.uk

The LCW twist? Koserate Tea Martini, £7. Ever After, 8-9 Hoxton Square, N1, everafterbar.com

Mr Lyan’s Freezer Martini

(Makes 10 Martinis)

  • 550ml Beefeater Gin

  • 150ml Martini extra dry

  • 3ml Regan’s orange bitters

  • 3ml La Maison Fontaine Blanche Absinthe

  • 70ml mineral water

  • Mix, bottle, freeze! Serve into frozen glasses and garnish with an olive and a small lemon twist.

The Old Fashioned

Shannon Tebay, The American Bar at The Savoy

 (Natasha Pszenicki)
(Natasha Pszenicki)

There’s isn’t a cocktail more iconic than an Old Fashioned and while the most popular way to drink one seems to be with whiskey, they can actually be made with any spirit. The definition of an Old Fashioned is straightforward: spirit, sugar, bitters, water. This bare-bones simplicity leaves nowhere to hide; it is designed to showcase the base spirit. Because of this basic template, there are innumerable permutations.

In addition to the typical American whiskey base, a number of other combinations have become famous in their own right — not a night of service goes by that I don’t make one with rum or Oaxacan (a combination of reposado tequila and mezcal). This flexibility makes them adaptable to any environment, as well — just as I’d enjoy a smoky, scotch Old Fashioned in a dark, broody bar on a rainy night, I’d equally indulge in a floral gin take outdoors on a spring afternoon. There is a combination for every occasion.

Where to drink it?

The Vault, 3 Greek Street, W1, thevaultsoho.co.uk

Little Mercies, 20 Broadway Parade, N8, littlemercies.co.uk

The LCW twist? Nushi Kara, with matcha powder, £7. 175 Northcote Road, SW11, kibou.co.uk

The Tebay Old Fashioned

  • 60ml Pikesville Rye Whiskey

  • 1 tsp demerara syrup, made with a 2:1 ratio of water to sugar

  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters, orange bitters

  • Mix the sugar syrup with the bitters, stir, then add ice and top with whisky.

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