Katharine Gemmell will be following our DRAM Mixxit Bar Apprentices of the Year 2016 each week as a quasi-contestant to experience the competition and let us know what they have been up to.
I have a vivid memory of playing a game with my friends when I was a wee girl that involved wearing a blindfold and touching horrible concoctions of goo and tasting an array of disgusting treats to see if we could guess what they were. So, it really touched on my nostalgic memories when we were welcomed on our third day of the DRAM Mixxit Bar Apprenticeship with a more adult version of that said game.
Our new master mixologists Teddy Joseph and Mike Green had organised a blindfolded taste and smell test to try and awaken our senses and mould them from the raw beginners that we are to something more sophisticated. Blind testing is a million times harder than you think it is going to be – you really think you know something until you can’t use your eyes to help you trigger that memory that is floating around in your brain somewhere.
Teddy and Mike come around with some orange, rosemary, basil and molasses – and I guess every single one wrong. I fare a bit better on the taste test as I correctly guess one as a fruit cake, and am just off the mark with guessing that another is a lime soaked apple instead of a lemon soaked one. The third taste is one that everyone recognises very quickly – chocolate. Chris guesses very specifically that it’s Sainsbury’s Value Milk Chocolate to which everyone agrees; however, it turns out to actually be Lint. This just shows what I have always suspected: that when you can’t see the brand it’s so much harder to distinguish expensive products from its cheaper counterpart.
When all the fun and games are over it’s time to start our theory lesson of the day. Day three centres around the weird and wonderful world of liqueurs. It is one of the oldest categories of spirits and we are told that it had medicinal beginnings – being used as a cure for everything from childbirth to the plague. Maxxium’s main liqueur brand is the Bols range which originates from Amsterdam and is the world’s oldest distilled spirit company. Teddy then drops the bomb on us, that I definitely don’t want to hear, that the minimum sugar content for a liqueur is 100g per litre; 250g per litre for ‘crème’ products; and 400g per litre for products with the name ‘crème de cassis’. Looking around the bar I can’t believe how much of a diabetes haven it is – it’s everywhere and clearly vital to the cocktail industry. Will it make me guess that second cocktail on a night out though? Probably not.
Teddy then explores a few other liqueur brands on the Maxxium brand including Midori – which I suspect could be a bit of a guilty pleasure with the Mixxit team. Teddy explains that Midori is the epitome of 70s disco having been released in the legendary Studio 54 nightclub. From the reaction of my fellow apprentices, it instantly gives it some cool points. Teddy admits that he has a rather fond relationship with the bright green liqueur as he tells us a story about trying to impress some girls at his bar by getting them to choose some random flavours for him to make a mystery cocktail. It turns out that his mystery cocktail was a massive hit not just with her but also with his place of work. He named it ‘Pretty in Pink’ and it became a staple menu item in his bar for a very long time.
We then move onto a discussion about the ultimate cocktail flavourings and a bartenders best friend – bitters and syrups. I instantly feel a bit thick as I realise what bitters actually are – in the restaurant I worked in I thought that the unusual wee bottle covered with paper was hot sauce for the Bloody Mary’s. I even remember telling a new bar start that it was hot sauce (I really hope they realised my mistake or someone was in for a treat…).
Then the dreaded question is asked – has everyone done their homework? Surprisingly, everyone has and although there is a few that admitted doing it on the train in the morning, everyone seems very keen. Each of my fellow Dram Mixxit Bar apprentices gets up and compares a Maxxium brand to a similar competitor, and to make things a bit more interesting Teddy puts us on the spot by asking us to then come up with a drink involving the Maxxium product. This pushes us to be a bit more creative and to think fast on the spot in front of an audience. My favourite of the day is Joseph’s with his aptly named cocktail ‘The Penicillin’, he is currently on it for tonsillitis, which uses Yamasaki 12 and looks and tastes like it could cure any ailment.