Celebrating the renaissance of craft cocktails for a fourth year running, Bristol Cocktail Week 2015 saw more events across more venues than ever before. Forget the 2-4-1 chain bars serving 500ml of cheap vodka and mixed juices. Only the finest establishments participated.
They say good things come to those who wait. Finding the starting point for the Bristol Cocktail Safari tested this virtue of patience to the max. With the promise of four bars and four cocktails, we headed up Whiteladies with impatience.
Having desperately scouting out every nook and cranny around Clifton Down station, we tracked down Her Majesty’s Secret Service. This well-hidden bar is the latest addition to Bristol’s list serving top-notch tipples. But I shan’t say where….
Accessing the bar through a red telephone box entrance was like stepping out the TARDIS. Suddenly, we were back in 1920s America enjoying the waft of hard liquor and hushed atmosphere of prohibition. Our tour guide Sam – a dapper dressed gentleman with a passion for mixology – greeted us. Smart bar staff led us to leather-upholstered benches and tables with jars of monkey nuts.
Drinks began with the craziest concoction I’ve ever heard of, let alone tasted – the Welcome to Kentucky, Have a Nice Day. This East-meets-West infusion was served in a noodle soup box and topped with raw instant noodles. Two-parts Jim Bean, one-part ginger and plum infusion, another part Yuzu juice and final measure of Matchta tea made a strangely refreshing start to the evening. As Sam explained, the crushed ice also allows a slow strength to build up in a drink towards its last dregs.
A trip over the road took us to Flipside, the most conventional bar of the evening. Maddie, our enthusiastic bar tender and finalist for the Barcardi 2015 Legacy Cocktail Competition, graced us with her personal best. Her Sage Against the Machine was a blend of Bacardi rum, fresh sage, pineapple Juice, lime juice and sugar. This short, sweet and strong drink is stiff stuff and well deserving of prize place.
By this point a short stop-off for chips was in store, before a stroll downtown. We were soon ushered through the inconspicuous doorway of Hyde & Co, a pioneer of Bristol’s speakeasy revival. Drink number three had a whisky base, one spirit I usually give a miss. A mix of lemon juice, amontillado sherry, burnt pineapple syrup and chocolate bitters gave a sweet balance to the Highland Park 12 single malt. This infusion – named Smuggler’s Cove – benefited from the addition of egg white for a frothy finish.
The night concluded at Red Light, a Whiteladies newbie taking inspiration from a brothel. I’ve never been inside one, but this drinking den appeared to be the real deal. The dimly lit and cave-like interior was ideal, allowing bleary eyes and a serious lack of balance to go unnoticed.
And so we ended the evening with a classic Old Fashioned, toasting to the future growth of mixology across the city. It’s beginning to look a lot like cocktails for Bristol’s bar scene.