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.
Day 4 of the DRAM Mixxit Bar Apprentice of the Year marks us being over the halfway point of the competition. John Parsons is our new master mixologist for the day and looks just like one of our apprentices – all tattoo’s and edge. So, who better to teach us about the utterly edgy drink of the moment? That is of course – gin.
The last few years ‘mother’s ruin’ has blown up and we have seen a complete re-gin-eration. The craft movement really propelled gin as it allowed the spirit to be made fast and easily, so it has been churning out like no tomorrow. As a result, both the on-trade and off-trade alike have been stocking up its gantry’s and shelves with all manner of brands – both old and new.
John starts by telling us that his strong interest in gin goes back to before this boom. He tells us that a result of the re-gin-eration it means there is a hell of a lot of gin brand ambassadors out there all spewing out the same old history spiel – that actually misses all the interesting parts out.
The most interesting part, according to John, is the reasons why the juniper berry becomes the star ingredient in the first place. We go through the importance of juniper throughout moments in history, like the importance of it during the plague and the magical qualities that it was supposed to have. If anything, now the apprentices have some material to ‘out-cool’ their fellow bartenders.
As Maxxium don’t have a gin brand in their portfolio anymore, our attention turns to something I have never heard of before – genever. What the hell is genever I ask myself? John teaches us that genever is an old spirit very similar to gin, and that gin actually has its roots in genever. It can either be a gin made like a whisky or a whisky made like a gin. And it is this spirit where the origins of the phrase ‘Dutch courage’ come from.
We look at Bol’s genever and all have a little taste of the gin-like substance. I can just imagine all the hipsters of the world who would take one sip and claim to have known about it for years, and refuse to drink anything except it. Traditionally, you are meant to fill up a glass with the spirit and sip from it with your hands behind your back. But most amusingly, it is traditionally served this way at a bar in Amsterdam named ‘Wynand Fockink’.
John’s interest, aside from gin and genever, is in the science behind taste and flavour. Things begin to get pretty existential as we are asked: “Why does a raspberry taste like a raspberry?” One of the contestants cheekily chimes up: “Because I have tasted it before.” And although this is a smart-arse answer, John tells us that this is exactly how we process flavour – through memory. It’s interesting to find out the difficulty that we have in telling the difference between taste and flavour, and we tend to tell taste by reaction and flavour by memory.
We do little taste tricks like holding our nose and putting Jim Beam BBQ Sauce on our tongues, and then let go to release the flavour. We also pat our tongues dry and rub sugar on it; it’s so bizarre as it initially feels like salt is on our tongues until the saliva hits it and you get a full hit of sweetness. We then have our first proper posh tasting session of the course. We try products like Macallan Gold and write down notes on appearance, nose and palate. It’s funny looking around and seeing all the apprentices acting like posh connoisseurs.
Our day ends with the first real free reign that the apprentices have been given on the bar. I’m nearly pushed off my feet as everyone rushes to get started on their drink all at once. Seeing them all scuttering about, finding spirits, picking fruits and collecting their equipment is a real buzz. I see Gavin tasting something off the back of his hand; Chris with his earphone in for extra concentration; and Jack dropping some bottles in the excitement of it all.
This is what bartending is really all about – when the theory comes into practice.