October: Callooh Callay

The first meeting of the London Cocktail Society at 69 Colebrooke Row went so well that it seemed impossible the next one could be anything other than a let down.  Luckily our second hosts, Callooh Callay were, more than up to the job and provided such a different atmosphere there could be no suffering by comparison.

Visiting Callooh Callay for the first time is quite an experience. The front bar is fairly typical ‘Shoreditch’ in style with eccentric lighting and random furniture dotted around. But then you realise the wardrobe in the corner is not just for effect – it’s actually a portal to another bar, with a short corridor taking you to a pop art styled lounge. This chi-chi retreat itself contains another hidden entrance behind a curtain, leading on to a staircase.  Curiouser and curiouser…

At the top of the staircase is a locked door, entry to which is by drinking a shrinking potiona members key (membership open to anyone, so long as they appreciate fine spirits and mixed drinks). Inside is where the journey through Wonderland ends,  at the ever so civilised and intimate Jub Jub bar.

Sean Ware was our host for the evening, which was pretty heroic considering he’d just come out of hospital. He’d created a menu especially for us, giving a potted history of drinking in the capital through the last two hundred years. After Sean had given an informal talk-through of the menu with interesting trivia on the drinks’ origins and historic setting, we got down to the important business of working our way through the list:

Hot Gin Punch
(Hendricks Gin, pineapple, Madeira wine, citrus, honey, winter spices)

A traditional winter warmer, punches were hugely popular in Georgian and Victorian times, when it was safer to drink alcohol than water. This version from Sean is a modern take  on the formula.

John Collins

The original Collins as made with Genever giving a nice pungent depth to an otherwise refreshing classic. Since this version got overtaken in popularity by the Tom Collins – originally with Old Tom gin – the John Collins is now commonly made with whisky.

 This old verse from the early 1800s says it all:

“My name is John Collins, head waiter at Limmer’s,
Corner of Conduit street, Hanover square;
My chief occupation is filling of brimmers,
For all the young gentlemen frequenters there.”

The Avenue
(Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon, Lairds Apple jack, passion fruit nectar, orange flower water, syrup)

From The Cafe Royal, which was the centre of drinking culture in London from the Art Nouveau Era of the 1890′s to the high point of Art Deco in the 1920′s and 1930′s. An elegant concoction indeed.

Clayton’s Special Cocktail
(Bacardi Superior, citrus syrup, Clayton’s Kola Tonic )

Thought to be invented by a personal hero of mine, the legendary Ada Coleman of the Savoy. The key ingredient, Clayton’s Kola tonic, was first made in Battersea in the 1880s and is now made in Barbados. Apparently this non-alcoholic tonic was marketed in Australia and New Zealand in the 1970′s & 1980s,  as “the drink you have when you’re not having a drink” at a time when alcohol was being targeted as a major factor in the road toll. We got to taste this separately and it was really rather nice. It’s now on my Christmas list.

Bramble
(Beefeater Gin, lemon, sugar, Creme de mure)

Practically every cocktail bar in London offers this famous creation by Dick Bradsell, which is an update of the drink type known as a ‘fix’. Created in the height of the first revival of cocktails during the mid 80’s  at Fred’s Bar in Soho. Interestingly, with the recent revival of interest in old cocktails, I’ve seen a number of ‘fix’ drinks creeping onto menus across London. But Dick got there first with this simple but beautiful drink

An Ale of Two Cities
(42 Below Feijoa, Punt e Mes, Nettle Cordial, Granny Smith apple juice, bitters, malt syrup)

An award-winning drink invented by Sean himself, cleverly utilising the weirdly TCP-like taste of Feijoa and malt syrup to capture the essence of a good pint in a good pub. It’s worth a trip east for this drink alone.

So there you have it: the history of London drinking contained in half a dozen glasses from Callooh Callay, masters of precis as well as mixology.

Read a review of Callooh Callay by Gin Monkey!


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