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Shaken or stirred, London plays host to a week of cocktail culture celebration

Cocktails in Covent Garden

From bespoke bars and intimate tasting sessions, to master-classes and pop-up events, London Cocktail Week 2013 offered a seven-day celebration of our capital’s unrivalled cocktail culture. Intending to unite cocktail connoisseurs, industry professionals, and new drinkers eager to experience the world of cocktails, the week-long list of versatile and unique events was sure to cater for every cocktail-lover’s need.

Accommodating within luxurious hotel bars, secret speakeasies, eccentric lounges, and hole-in-the-wall pop-up venues across the whole of London – located particularly within Covent Garden’s quirky Seven Dials – there was no escape from the alcoholic education…

And I for one was eager to get involved.

Delving into the underbelly of the casino.

Delving into the underbelly of the casino.

I chose to attend the festivities on Thursday 10th October, having booked several events to satisfy my alcoholic sweet tooth. Being the penniless graduate that I am, my first step was to scan the list of over 20 events per day, seeking out the free options. There were several choices available, including The Beluga Siberian Express event, hosted at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, the MONIN Mad Hatter’s Tea Room extravaganza within The Arts Theatre, and The Fever-Tree Botanical Bicycle located in Seven Dials, each of which offering a diverse range of specialist cocktails mixed with an assortment of delicious spirits. However, I opted firstly for The Buffalo Bourbon Empire pop-up event, followed by an entirely different environment with the Monkey Shoulder DIY Drinks Kitchen master-class.

As I descended down the narrow, dimly-lit staircase into the Buffalo Trace speakeasy, the overwhelming aroma of fine whisky greeted my nostrils. With its strong focus on tradition, retro décor and sophistication, I felt as if I had been transported straight back to the world of 1960s New York advertising, with Don Draper in toe. The basement bar could hold a capacity of up to 30 eager tasters, each of which could settle in comfy chiffon chairs and leather couches, with a wooden board, lined with a variety of 5 Buffalo Trace bourbons, for each person to sample. Although my taste-buds are less-inclined towards the wooden richness of bourbon, even I managed to muster several samples. The speakers were quite young and very knowledgeable about Buffalo’s Trace’s brand history and distillery process, talking us through the different techniques which are implemented to produce such unique flavours. However, upon the arrival of Buffalo Trace’s CEO, Mark Brown, the master-class took a dramatic plummet downhill in terms of fascination. Suggesting that, “”A bourbon a day is good for you,” the session became more of a never-ending endorsement of Buffalo Trace’s supposed superiority. After enduring forty minutes of brand advertising, we swiftly made our exit through the velvet curtains back to civilisation and onwards to our next destination: the Monkey Shoulder DIY master-class.

Sampling a variety of different bourbons.

Sampling a variety of different bourbons.

It is certainly a rarity in central London to be treated to an expertly made, bespoke cocktail that is personally catered to your own preferences. It is even more unexpected to have made such a delicious concoction yourself. The Monkey Shoulder once referred to a temporary injury by the malt men when turning the barley by hand, but now serves as a tribute to the predecessors of fine whiskey making. Within the Monkey Shoulder Kitchen, we were given a flavour of the precision and detail that goes into making every single cocktail, in a far more intimate and relaxed environment than the former master-class. Arranged in small groups around a high, wooden table, an experienced mixologist talked us through the procedure and supervised us as we poured our own drinks. There was something refreshing about being able to pull up a stool among a table of strangers, raid a cupboard of colourful ingredients and blend strange drinks, and I found the entire experience highly enjoyable.

Throughout the week, I visited an assortment of bars, including the Belvedere Martini pop-up bar in Seven Dials for an overpowering vodka-based martini accompanied by salty nibbles, the Dirty Martini Bar in Covent Garden for a post-work pick-me-up in the underground tavern, embellished with atmospheric lighting and spinster professionals, the Adventure Bar in Covent Garden to seek out the eccentric list of sickly shooters, and the Hippodrome Casino for a throat-tickling, cider based cocktail within the gambling enthused haven. Each location incited its own identity upon the London Cocktail Week festivities – making the £4 cocktails unique and memorable – and helped to reaffirm London as an iconic destination for cocktail culture.

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