I often get asked where the best bars in Manchester are for a drink. Whether it’s a cocktail, a dram or two, glass of wine or just a good old-fashioned soft drink, there are always venues that spring to mind that can cater for all. Elixir, Tonics & Treats is such a venue that sees itself in my mind as one of the best. If you read my feature on the bar when it first opened, you’ll know that I was impressed with the effort that the team have put behind it, essentially bringing some of the London bar scene to the North, and not losing sight of alienating the Mancunian customers, or indeed the liquids being used.It’s with this in my mind that I went along last week to experience some of their winter inclusions to their cocktail menu.
A re-jig of the current menu sees the main eye-focus train to the Elements Experimental, a look at the earth, wind, fire, sky and water, plus a combination of all five. Speaking to Jamie Strickland, my bartender for the hour, he says that with the heavy nod that Elixir, Tonics & Treats has towards the healing elements of crystals and the powers that the various forms can give off, the look into the elements is the natural course to take, which over the last couple of months has come down to the likes of By The Fire, using a combination of rum and dark chocolate, and Hope Floats with its twist on the White Lady classic.
But it’s the Down To Earth (£9) which Jamie creates first. A choice of Jim Beam White Label, Rittenhouse or Johnnie Walker Black Label are available for the base, (essentially peaty, dry or sweet) with Jamie opting for the use of Johnnie Walker this particular time. The whisky is blended with Antica sweet vermouth, Cynar, Angostura Bitters and dark agave, topped with Samuel Adams and accompanied by a ‘muddy puddle’, essentially squashed home-made chocolate, a sweet worm and edible stones. Served on a tray laden with grass, the crystal cut tumbler gives off the expected Samuel Adams nose, creating a fresh scent combined with liquorice coming from the liquorice stick used to act like a, well, stick (hopefully you’ve noticed the woodland scene developing). Coming through the two is the Johnnie Walker Black Label, followed by the bitterness from the Cynar artichoke. The Cynar follows onto the palate too, with the dark agave giving a punchy kick alongside the blended whisky. When sipped after a bite of the muddy puddle, the experience is smoothed off and a more velvet texture arises, essentially toning down some of the bitterness. Not a bad start, and one I can see working for beer drinkers to develop into whisky cocktail lovers.
A Mermaid’s Teardrop (£8.50) came next, combining the base of Stolichnaya Red with Kwai Feh, coconut and ocean syrup (essentially lemon-grass and seaweed infused into neutral syrup). Accompanied by a teardrop ice bomb and chocolate sea-glass shell, once again the presentation was extravagant yet subtle. Housed in a stylish coupette, plenty of fresh lavender and lychee from the Kwai Feh are noticeable, acting rather enticing to sip quicker than you expect. An incredibly well-balanced drink awaits, Plenty of citrus notes are dancing around, but the sweetness from the Kwai Feh tones it all down, with the length from the Stolichnaya becoming more noticeable.
Into The Ether (£8), and one of two on the new portion of the menu that twists a classic cocktail. An Old Fashioned is a personal favourite of mine, especially using a spirit with a good, heavy base like rum or whisky. Although I’ve had many a tequila based Old Fashioned, especially in Elixir, Tonics & Treats itself, I saw it as a brave move to serve with a side-order of citric acid and an intensifying flavour vapour! Jamie opted for a spot of blue food colouring to really show off what I can only describe as a bubbling orb can do to your Sauza Blanco Old Fashioned. Truly the elements at work! As you can imagine, plenty of fresh citrus on the nose, with the tequila noticeable on the palate once you’ve calmed down the reaction. A cocktail aimed for the ladies of the group with the array of colours available, as well as the interaction you have when you have to finish off the cocktail yourself.
Lastly, Jamie created for me the Utopian Cascade (£8.50), seen as the mecca of all the elements combined. Jamie kept this one until last due to the heavy spirits used including Chairman’s Reserve Spiced, Calvados, Five Spice syrup, pressed apple and lemon juice. It also combines an Elixir signature so-to-speak with the drink served over Star Anise and clove cascaded dry ice, topped with a dried apple and cinnamon star. A great flavour concept, seen as pure and clean with plenty of fresh apple, cinnamon and underlining Calvados notes on the nose. Although a light start on the first sip, the buds develop with spiced apple and hints of lavender present. Despite the finish being short and dry, it’s mourish, meaning a night on the Utopian Cascade is not generally out of the question.
It seems that Elixir Tonics & Treats have kept up the form. Subtle extravagance through their showmanship and presentations keeps the newcomers flocking, and the twists on classics and new-age statements prove that they can offer something unique to the Manchester table. I still love the way that the venue is brave to use liquids such as Cynar and Calvados within their work. There’s simply not enough bartenders being creative with these lesser-known brands and categories, let alone see them featured on a menu in what still is one of Manchester best cocktail bars.
Get down, try them all, especially the Mermaid’s Teardop which came as a surprise hit for me. One of the best.
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