Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The Tower of London

One of the things we love about London is the long and interesting history that the city has. We’ve been to a few castles and palaces now, and they all have an interesting story to tell. The more places we visit, the clearer it becomes to put the historic jigsaw together. Another piece to the puzzle is a place we’ve talked about visiting for some time, the Tower of London. 

Our travels through the UK don’t always involve drinking and cocktails. We are always interested in learning about the vast history that Britain has to offer, and the Tower of London is certainly a major part of it’s history. The Tower dates back to 1066, after victory at the battle of Hastings. William the Conqueror completed the construction of the tower in 1078. It served many purposes aside from being the royal residence for such Kings as King Richard, Henry III and Edward I. It was also used as a prison for intruders who were caught trying to infiltrate the towers walls.  The main section of the palace is the “White Tower”.  It is the strongest structure of the castle. It was built with such precision, so much so that the main centre stairwell had the ability to be easily discarded in case of an attack.  By the end of the 11th Century the Tower was described as being the most advanced fortress in Europe.

As I often do, I can’t resist picking up a souvenir for the day’s trip. This time I picked up a bottle of the “Tower of London’s, Kings Table Real Ale”. With Britain being such huge ale drinkers, I thought this would be an appropriate memento of the day.  This traditional English Ale has been brewed by hand. It’s golden in colour, As well as being light in hops, which make it’s flavour not to overpowering and easy to drink.  Most ale’s tend to be heavy and I personally have found them hard to drink. This however was different. It was heavier than a normal lager, but it was just as refreshing.  I realize that this Ale is meant to be served at room temperature, but it’s against everything I stand for as an Australian, so I couldn’t help but pop it in the fridge just to chill it down.  

So another tourist attraction is ticked off the list. Who knows what we’ll see and learn about next. 

Monday, 23 July 2012

History of the Brasserie & Cafe

After returning from Italy, we had only a couple of days before we were expecting a visitor from Australia. One of my close friends was making the trip to London, and we were both travelling south to France to experience one of the greatest sporting events and by far the most prestigious bike race in the world, the Tour De France. Cara and I were lucky enough to see the last stage of the tour last year, so Cara decided to sit this trip out whilst myself and my mate Evan would follow a number of stages in the race towards Paris.

Our journey began in the city of Toulouse. A city, which is famous for it’s pink coloured buildings, giving it the nickname “The Pink City”. It is also the gateway to the Pyrenees, which is famous for it’s grueling climbs in the Tour every year. Even though, we had a jam-packed week ahead following the bikes, we were lucky enough to still have the time to explore Toulouse and see what this little city had to offer.

As we got out of our hotel and into the sun and warmth of southern France, we made our way into the city centre. As we walked the streets, I noticed the endless number of café’s and brasseries. This got me thinking about why the French love the café or brasserie style bar.

My research began by looking at the term “Brasserie”. It is the French word for brewery. The story goes, that brasserie’s first began in the north of France, where the French border joins Belgium. Small microbreweries opened in an attempt to compete with the high demand for Belgium beer. After some time of brasserie’s only selling beer, owners began to offer food and other light snacks to their patrons. Over time, brasseries are now no longer associated with beer and breweries, but smaller restaurants, that are usually relaxed, with still an upscale setting. This setting, I’m sure, sounds much like a café. The two are both very similar. The word ‘café’ comes from the word ‘kaff’, which in French means, “drink”. So as the brasserie began in France mainly serving beer, the café was a place for people to have other drinks, the most common is of course coffee. When both styles of bars began serving light meals, they both became almost the same thing. As we walked around the streets of Toulouse, I noticed that the Brasserie style is often set up to look more like a restaurant. It’s designed to almost be a middleman between the café and the restaurant. For tourists, this can all get a little confusing because, in countries like France and Italy, a café is also another term for cocktail bar.

So what is the conclusion to this research I hear you ask… well the short answer is, they are all much the same. In France, brasseries, cafes and bars, despite starting off as three completely different types of licensed establishments; are now blending together all offering a similar service. The bar industry is now very competitive and Toulouse is no different to any other city. Owners now cannot afford to limit themselves (and there patrons) by sticking to one style of venue, as was the way many years ago.

Being a warm evening, we picked out a nice outdoor Brasserie to relax and eat over a few glasses of wine and prepare ourselves for a busy week ahead following the tour.

Scenes from the Tour De France

Scenes from the Tour De France

The Amazing French Alps

Friday, 13 July 2012

Back to Italy

Well it’s summer again in Europe, and Cara and I have been looking forward to getting out of the cold, wet weather that we’ve been experiencing in London and go back to one of our favourite countries in Europe for some sunshine and amazing food... Thats right, we were returning to Italy. Our first trip to Italy was very special. We travelled to Rome and had an amazing few days. This time round we made a trip to one of Europes fashion capitals, Milan.  Being a city of style and fashion, it was fair to assume that their bar and cocktail culture would follow the same trend. So we were both excited to explore another new city, try some new cocktails and of course eat the amazing Italian food.

By far the main attraction in Milan is the “Duomo di Milano”, which translates to the Cathedral of Milan. This gothic and impressive structure began construction in 1386. It was finally complete in 1965. Looking at the fine detail in the cathedrals exterior, we could understand why it took them so long to complete. It is the forth-largest cathedral in Europe, and it’s the largest in Italy. So Cara and I decided to find a perfect spot to have some of our much-loved antipasti and take in the grandeur of the Duomo, before continuing our exploration of Milan.

A trip to Milan is not complete without experiencing the cities high-end fashion scene. As we walked the streets, passing all the big name featured stores; we decided to make another stop. This time at Dolce & Gabbana, and more importantly the D&G Martini bar. This fashion icon is the brain child of 2 Italian fashion designers, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana. They came together in 1982 to launch one of the most sort after brands in Italy and the world. The D&G Martini bar has been designed to convey the same ideals of the high-end fashion label, which has made the brand so successful today. It’s relaxing, intimate and glamorous setting, gives shoppers the perfect place to unwind after a ‘hard’ days shopping. I wanted to order a cocktail from their menu that screamed “Italy”. I chose a cocktail called “Milano”. Not the most original name in the world, but one that was fitting. It was a martini that consisted of equal parts Campari (another great Italian spirit), Gin and Aperol. It was garnished with slice of orange, which was coated in saffron. This cocktail was exactly what I expected. Crisp clean, with a (what I like to call) razor sharp finish. It is certainly not a cocktail for everyone. Campari can be a tough spirit to drink. But as I looked around the room, I couldn’t help but notice that most of the other patrons were drinking the famous fiery red spirit. Only in Italy would you find so many people drinking Campari at the same time. Aside from the Campari, the gin and the Aperol added to its dry crispness. The Aperol gave the cocktail a refreshing apricot after taste. The garnish was a nice touch too. A saffron coated orange slice was something original. It gave the drink an acidity, which complemented the spirits nicely.

As we sat and enjoyed our drinks, we noticed every customer that walked into D&G’s Martini bar all came carrying a number of shopping bags from the various well known fashion label stores in the nearby area. Being typical Aussies, dressed in flip-flops and me in my Australian soccer top, we suddenly felt a little out of place. Not to worry though, the day was young and we still had lots to see in Milan.

D&G’s “Martini Bar”
The Milano:
In the cocktail shaker
30ml Campari
30ml Gin
30ml Aperol
Stir and strain into a Martini Glass
Garnish with a slice of Orange coated
in Saffron.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Imbibe London Bar Show 2012

Nothing brings out the countries best bartenders like a trade show. It’s a chance to research, learn and (the best part) try new products on the market. It’s also a great opportunity to meet with other industry experts and discuss all things drinking.

I’ve attended several trade shows in Australia, but this was on such a larger scale. There were many new products on display and I’d love to share my thoughts on all of them, but it would take me forever. I can however pick out a couple of products which have stood in my mind.

New flavoured vodkas seemed to be a popular trend this year. One which caught my eye was Belvedere Vodka’s new “Bloody Mary” flavoured spirit. This addition to the belvedere brand contains seven vital ingredients which makes the bloody mary cocktail such a popular drink today. It is a maceration of black pepper, horse-raddish, bell peppers, chilli, vinegar, lemon and (of course) tomatos. It also contains hints of other herbs and spices, such as celery. When I tasted this spirit straight, I could really pick up the smokey flavours of the black pepper instantly. The taste of the chilli’s was apparent too, but it didn’t make the vodka spicy. It was a nice spirit and I could see the potential of this flavour for home bartenders. It had strong bloody mary flavours, but not over powering. It is a spirit that has not been designed to replace the original cocktail flavours (like so many flavoured spirits try to do), it simply would compliment the ingredients which you’d use to make the classic drink.

Now something for the sweet tooth... Thunder Toffee flavoured vodka. Thunder toffee vodka is a triple distilled premium vodka, free of additives and preservatives. During the distillation process,  fresh toffee is melted down and added to give the vodka a smooth sweet taste. Thunder has been designed to be drunk as a shot or straight on ice. Although cocktails have been created with this spirit, it’s sweet and over-powering flavour can make it hard to use in drinks.  Thunder toffee has become a huge success amongst ski resorts mainly in France. I found it nice, but you could not have more than one or two. It is very sweet. In my opinion it must be served ice cold. Room temperature in good, but ice cold gives the spirit a clean and crisp taste.

As I walked around the Imbibe show, I came across several products which I’ve tried in the past. I can’t resist sampling them again. Some of my old favourites such as Ron Zacapa Rum and Courvoisier Cognac are always popular among us bartenders. I was also impressed with the wine component of the show. Wine often takes a back seat to the spirits and liqueurs, so it was good to see some of the top wineries from around Europe getting involved in a big way. I had the pleasure of visiting the French wine stand which had over 100 of the finest French wines on display for us to try.

By the end of the day, we were all a little tipsy. Trade show’s are always a lot of fun. I was able to learn a lot, try many new products and mingle with the UK’s industry experts.