Cocktails perfected

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Nick Mosley catches up with Laurence Riis, head bartender at Hotel du Vin, to discover some of the secrets of cocktail mixology.

Hotel du Vin has been one of the city’s go-to cocktail bars for over 15 years. Exuding discreet yet relaxed sophistication, its gained a well-deserved reputation for the variety and quality of its drinks and service.

I’ve known bartender Laurence Riis for around a year or so, and in that time I’ve been impressed by his passion and depth of knowledge. He is, what you may call, a cocktail geek. How does he find working at Hotel du Vin?

“The hotel is a great place to work”, he says. “We have a huge collection of spirits so the ability to create a vast range of cocktails. I have the ability to create cocktails on-the-spot for guests as nine times out of ten I’ve got the flavours I need on the back bar”.

“Because of our operations manager Ryan Bonner, I have a lot of freedom to make my own ingredients for drinks. If I’m not serving then you’ll find me working on something weird to add to the next drink”.

Guests often question why bartenders shake or stir a drink, and as ever in the world of cocktails there’s more to this than meets the eye.

“The science of shaking is really interesting”, says Laurence. “ We shake cocktails with a lot of citrus and modifiers in them to achieve the desired dilution faster. On the other hand we stir cocktails when the recipe calls for just alcohol-based ingredients as we just want to chill them. Alcoholic drinks mix much easily than added ingredients. Shaking a Negroni would bruise the gin, whereas stirring a Margarita wouldn’t mix the tequila and lime juice enough”.

I ask Laurence that if he had to choose just one liquor to work with, then what would it be?

“Cognac”, he says with confidence. “Its the base of a lot of classic and prohibition-era cocktails, and they’re my favourites to make for guests. Its also very versatile so can go in a fruity cocktail such as La Jolla but also in the Sidecar – a drink that’s strong enough to wake the dead”.

I’ve been working a lot in the Netherlands recently and become very familiar with the Dutch national drink of Jenever, which can perhaps be considered the historical basis of gin. The Dutch tend to drink it as a shot – even for breakfast – so I wonder why its not more popular in the UK.

“Its definitely making a revival in the bartending world”, says Laurence. “There’s a lot of interesting flavours for just one spirit. Partly this is due to the malted barley and juniper berries but also it doesn’t lose itself when stirred or shaken”.

Another on-going trend in the cocktail world are bitters; concentrated flavours that start life as a neutral spirit that is then infused with herbs and fruits.

“A dash of bitters rally can change everything in a cocktail. They really lift the cocktail, bringing to the fore flavours that wouldn’t have been there before, and also bind flavours together. You can never have enough bitters on your bar”.

So what are some of Laurence’s tips for creating a good cocktail at home?

“Buy good equipment. Good equipment is the first step in creating a good drink”, he says. “Also make your own ice – poor quality ice will just break up and dilute your drink. I also recommend dehydrating your citrus slice as that will add a more intense burst of flavour than fresh citrus. And it also looks a lot cooler.”

Hotel du Vin, 2-6 Ship Street, Brighton BN1 1AD
01273 855221 • www.hotelduvin.com

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