Thursday, 16 February 2012

Presenting…Prohibition with Four Roses Bourbon Speakeasy

I was taken out of my comfort zone earlier this week and sent to North London to what has been described as a New Orlean’s Cocktail Den – Shaker & Co - and more specifically the Four Roses sponsored speakeasy downstairs.

A rather salubrious street off a 6 lane motorway passing under-agers drinking outside the local Spar and a shifty looking group of chain smoking girls is the location of much talked about new bar. The ground floor looks, to be honest, like a London pub. There is an incredibly well stocked bar on one side, seating down the other with a nod to the old in the stags head and a nod to the new/old cocktail culture in a feature photo wall of Southern bartenders. I like the toilets.

However this evening was taking place downstairs (where I presume the great smelling food was also emerging from) in the speakeasy. Walls are pasted with Four Roses cocktail recipes (mine was mixed with fresh ginger, yum), Dickensian streetlamps flicker in the corners and customers perch on bourbon crates – ladies be warned, this is serious splinter territory if in a skirt – which are frankly not too comfortable.

But hey, this IS a speakeasy. Whether you love them or hate them, the London trend has created everything from ramshackle pop ups to sleek bars hidden behind secret doors; the term originally meant something hidden and thrown together to enjoy alcohol in the time when it was banned and to “speak easy” – which is what we have here.

Straining to hear over the live music and stomping upstairs (which I liked as we hunkered down in the basement) we listened to a run down of the period that has so inspired the cocktail scene and television shows like Broadwalk Empire. .

In 1884 Georgia became the second state to introduce prohibition. By 1920 it was enforced across the USA until 1933. The results of prohibition were numerous:

-          there were more bars than when alcohol was legal
-          alcohol production became a money spinner and the mob quickly moved in
-          with an “anything goes” attitude these soon become brothels and gambling dens too
-          doctors became bartenders (1 in 4 bourbon tots were issued for medicinal purposes!)
-          most importantly it led to the popularity and spread of the cocktail

Alcohol quality went down quickly, with names such as Rotgut you can imagine the standard, so this was mixed with other flavours and soon developed classics such as Whisky Sour or the Old Fashioned. US bartenders grew frustrated and moved to Europe taking their cocktail culture to new markets and often staying, most famously in Harry’s Bar in Paris.

So what happened after it was all over? Depression, WWII, another depression, an influx of Canadian Whisky who were able to make and most importantly age their products so immediate release was possible, big companies taking names and dropping quality, gin coming into fashion from Europe, rum coming into fashion from the Navy boys, Tiki fashion in the 50’s since fruit juices were available again. In fact the only countries not to be exposed to the cheap Four Roses blend were Japan, France and Spain where it is still outselling its famous counterpart. Certainly nothing to do Bourbon any good.

But most importantly we are back on form now: Wild Turkey, Makers Mark, Bulleit, Four Roses with the people behind the products asking the right questions – can this be better? I am a new fan of bourbon but a passionate one so whether you pop into Byron for a burger/beer/bourbon offer or you choose MEATLiquor, Shaker&Co, the Blues Kitchen for some serious drinking, give this spirit a try and some long deserved support.

Recommended: Scofflaw (created in Harry’s Bar and named after those who scoffed at the law)

·                 1 1/2 ounces rye
·                 1 ounce dry vermouth
·                 3/4 ounces fresh lemon juice
·                 3/4 ounces grenadine
·                 2 dashes of orange bitters
Shake all ingredients in an ice-filled shaker and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Thanks to the who organised this event for us and to Dan Priseman, Brand Ambassador

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