D1 International Cocktail Exchange
Tasting my way
around a world of flavour
D1 London Spirits have been pioneering a unique global event. Each year, they gather some of the world’s very best bartenders, and challenge them to create a showcase cocktail. Their bars are partnered up with colleagues around the world, meaning that wherever you are, you can taste exotic flavours and unusual combinations developed by some of the best in the industry.
D1 London Spirits are a small but hyper-premium spirits brand, who you may be familiar with from their collaboration with the incredible contemporary artist Jackie Tsai. I also wrote about their latest invention, the D1 Cold Infusion pockets recently so take a look back over that. Anyway, on to the London participants on this year’s cocktail exchange.
Lanes of London
We began our journey in the palatial surroundings of Lanes of London on Park Lane. As the sweet tones of the harpist caressed our ears, we enjoyed a taste of their Noble Blitz creation. This is very much a drink inspired by the seasons – with dry, earthy and light winter tones combined into a deeply refreshing drink. Much of the complexity comes from the homemade Sencha syrup – made from a type of green tea, as well as the use of Tio Pepe fino sherry which brings some delicious hints of dried fruit and notes to the drink.
This very light, subtle drink was in stark contrast to the Blood Orange Whisper which was Lanes’ paired cocktail from Society on High in Boston, USA. Their punchy cocktail is full of fruit and quite heavy on the booze. Essentially a blood orange twist on a martini, this is a real party drink that makes an excellent pick me up. The Lillet and bitters add depth which is balanced by the flavour of the D1 Potato Vodka.
Unfortunately, Lanes had run out of blood orange (must have been too popular!) so I think the overall effect was probably a little sweeter than the makers intended, so I look forward to trying the drink in all it’s glory in the future. Of course, all of the recipes are available on the bespoke D1 Cocktail Exchange postcards which you can obtain from the venues so it’s easy to redo at home.
Merchant House, Bow
On to the well hidden Merchant House in Bow, and we were treated to one of my favourite families of cocktails – the Old Fashioned. I love the nautical themed cellar with an absolutely incredible back bar range at Merchant House, with super friendly bar staff to boot. Their Limbrey Hodgson Old Fashioned makes excellent use of the D1 London Gin, paired with a bespoke IPA cordial, which is a speciality of the bar. They have been experimenting with using bitter ingredients for cordials and also have an Angostura cordial. The IPA cordial is made with citric acid, gooseberry and a healthy dose of Beavertown’s Neck Oil – with the original idea being inspired by the historic ‘grog’ recipes used by the Navy mixing citrus in with the rum cut with water to sweeten it and do give a little additional vitamin C in the diet.
This was a beautifully layered cocktail. Just how an Old Fashioned should be.
it had lots of sweet fruity and floral flavours layered with the bitter aromatics of grapefruit and IPA. This was followed by a dash of cloves. Finally the drink closed with the alcohol hit which was subtle but present at the end. This is a drink all about balance and certainly X marked the spot for me.
Paired with Merchant House is Hope & Sesame in Guangzhou, China. They were named the Best Bar in China in 2018. Their drink was a phenomenal floral creation – Oolong Tea by Jay Du. This is an extremely delicate drink, barely there on the nose, but soft and fragrant in the mouth. The tea element brought a light bitterness from the tannins – this drink was all about subtlety. I was really interested in the grapefruit and lemon oleo saccharum ingredient – this is a sugar-oil mix created by leaving the husks of used citrus fruits on sugar. This sustainable approach is reflected in the serving suggestion – in a reused tonic bottle with a starch straw.
Clarendon Cocktail Cellar
Onwards to Pimlico’s Clarendon Cocktail Cellar. We were treated to a very complex but beautifully delicate cocktail courtesy of head bartender, Warren. My Dear Number 1 makes fantastic use of D1’s Potato Vodka by infusing it with the D1 Cold Infusion Pocket in Passion Star. This gives a delicious passion fruit flavour. This is then delicately layered with a rainbow of flavours. Think verjus, fig, rose water – and one of my favourites, Aluna coconut rum. I was amazed that all of these bold flavours were combined into a delicate and fragrant drink. Nothing overpowered. Nothing was lost. Such was the skill of the bartender.
I had expected the coconut to be dominant but this was not the case. The drink had a soft texture also, given by the Miraculous foamer, a sort of vegan substitute for egg white. I loved the way that the drink gracefully cleared. It went from translucent to transparent as it lazily settled across the first few sips.
This is a spring-like drink, giving brightness and refreshment even now in the heart of winter. It is a contemporary view of a vodka sour that I think will please classic cocktail lovers and trendsetters alike. The Clarendon Cocktail Cellar is a great place for both these groups of people to meet. All will appreciate their funky but quality menu of Hollywood blockbuster inspired drinks.
The paired drink is The Eurostar from Lizzie’s Lane in Melbourne. Apparently the quickest way to get to London is to build one over ice. It has D1 London Gin, elderflower liqueur and sugar syrup. Garnished with a skull ice cube and finished a healthy topping of Prosecco. I think they have the current tastes of the London set well covered here!
Kouzu Japanese restaurant
Our final stop of the day was the critically acclaimed Kouzu Japanese restaurant by Grovesnor Gardens in Victoria. Their cocktail exchange dri, Skinny Love, was by far the most complex and interesting for the connoisseur. There is perhaps an element of this being because many of the flavours were new to me and so the drink required a lot more discussion and thought. I’ll be honest though, I prefer drinks that challenge me!
Kouzu is an elegant and sleek environment in which to enjoy a drink. They were named 2015 Sake Sommelier of the Year. This was just months after they first opened, so you can be confident of their pedigree. Their drink is overwhelmingly green – in herbal, floral and citrus notes. The enigmatic (at least for us) Shiso leaf garnish added some aromatic nettle, almost fenugreek type notes. The layers of kiwi, spicy Yuzu Kosho Japanese spice and Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc gave more perfume and a tingle of chilli. Exotic elements of citrus and cut grass ran through the drink. A preserved flavour loomed that was as delicious as it was difficult to describe.
What Laura saw
We had fantastic experiences at all the London hosts of the D1 Cocktail Exchange. Kouzu is the one I am most looking forward to returning to. I would like to discover more of both their food and their bar. And I’m very keen to see the creations their bartender Carl will develop in the future. Their flavours are considered and the quality of their ingredients is exquisite. That said, my favourite drink of the day was probably the Limbrey Hodgson Old Fashioned. Which one will be top of your list to try?
Thank you to D1 London Spirits for sending us to London to try these amazing drinks. There are naturally participants around the globe in this international project. UK fans will take note that our bars are located in London and Cheltenham. Thank you to all the bartenders who made us so welcome throughout the day. It was incredible to have such an insights into these very special drinks and their inspirations.