Cocktails In The City Review

Cocktails in the city

The biggest cocktail master class came back in full force this year in the form of Cocktails in the City. Located within Manchester Town Hall, 15 of Manchester’s bars teamed up with 15 brands ranging from tequila to rum and vodka to create a cocktail that would wow the consumers and tempt them to part with their tokens. Not only that though, The Liquorists held tasters for all ranging from ‘The Taster’ which involved two cocktails, main stage demonstrations and a cocktail booklet to ‘The Connoisseur‘ which included a champagne cocktail reception, food from Almost Famous, three cocktails and a Liquorists tutored tasting session.

This year, I was lucky enough to be asked to judge, giving me the perfect opportunity to see what the bars and brands came up with.

Starting the night with the bar in the sky, Cloud 23 served up two cocktails in the form of what myself and fellow judge Keeley Watts described as a Starter and Dessert using rum brand Ron Zacapa. The ‘starter’ came with Ron Zacapa, sherry syrup, yuzu juice and whisky aged bitters that were served with bread, chorizo and feta cheese, whilst the ‘dessert’ was created using Ron Zacapa, maraschino, Tip Pepe sherry, sweet vermouth and came with smoked almonds. Pop-up bar specialists Escapade were next with their unusual takes of creation and glassware. The creations being their enthusiasm and team work to create a Blue Lagoon within a closed jam jar (check out the photos, link at the bottom, to see what I’m on about!) plus a Heinz Bloody Mary using Heinz tomato soup, vodka, lemon and spice mix – served in the Heinz soup can. Innovative, and it worked! 31DOVER,the premium online drinks retailer, collaborated with BarChick, the best bar guide on the internet, to come up with a signature cocktail for the evening named The 31 Dover – gin, lemon juice, honey syrup and topped with Champagne.

Harvey's Marmalade Fizz
Harvey’s Marmalade Fizz

One of the new kids on the scene, The Liquor Store, collaborated with well-known tequila brand Jose Cuervo Tradicional to create the Maria Pickford which involved the tequila, lime, maraschino, pomegranate syrup and topped with pineapple foam and cracked pepper. A fantastic blend of flavours, and one that used the worlds first tequila in the best way. Chase Marmalade were partners with Harvey Nichols Second Floor Bar to produce Harvey’s Marmalade Fizz. Using the ever popular marmalade vodka, Campari, lemon and lime juice as well as egg white, sugar, Seville marmalade and topped with soda, the serving of it all in a jam jar complete with a dried orange wheel created one of the more visually stunning cocktails of the evening. A look that complimented its name went to Mojo’s and their cocktail with tequila brand Calle 23. The Pink Chihuahua had the simple ingredients of a healthy dose of Calle 23, pomegranate juice, lime, orgeat and egg white, served in the classic coupette glass.

Visiting one of the bars on the outskirts of the city next in the form of Chorlton’s Proof and their collaboration with Lambs Navy Rum. Two cocktails available from these guys – Any Port in a Storm used Lambs Navy, port, ginger, sugar and lime juice whilst the Mutiny on the Bounty had Lambs Navy, dark chocolate liqueur, crème de cacao and cocoa cream complete with a piece of Bounty for the garnish. Next to them were fellow rum brand Flor de Cana and Sandinista. Going for a ‘rum connoisseurs choice of drink’, they came up with Fat Like Buddha – Flor de Cana 7yr, Antica Formula, Benedictine, Cointreau and maraschino liqueur. Venturing back on to the outskirts soon after, visiting Didsbury’s The Violet Hour and Dutch gin Sloane’s, with their two options –  Summer Picnic (Sloane’s, elderflower, lemon, apple juice, marmalade and vanilla) or a more Traditional Cocktail using Sloane’s, curaçao, sugar, lemon and Angostura Bitters.

Another new kid in Neighbourhood partnered with Absolut Elyx to create a Lavender Cosmopolitan. Using pre-steeped lavender and sugar mix to the Absolut Elyx, Grand Marnier and cranberry juice created what Neighbourhood called ‘a seductive zingy Cosmo twist’. The use of Whitley Neil and The Whim Wham Cafe to create the African Sky caught the attention of many an enthusiast, mainly for the loud toots of owner Alix and his African horn (take that how you will) but also for their creation of a cocktail that looks literally like the African sunset. Created using Whitley Neil gin, Cointreau, marmalade syrup, cranberry juice, lime and Peychaud Bitters. Dry ice bellowed from the next bar as Apotheca teamed with Ketel One and made full use of their copper kettles. Creating the Citizen Kettle, they used a double healthy dose of Ketel One, elderflower liqueur, lemon juice, white grape and Peychaud Bitters.

Sandanista and Flor de Cana
Sandanista and Flor de Cana

Northern Quarter guys Dusk til Pawn went with white grain spirit Bootlegger to create the aptly named One Old Boot. Using Bootlegger, whisky barrel bitters, sugar, marmalade and ginger, they created a stirred drink with a nod to the Prohibition styles. Cross back into Europe and Belvedere vodka created a twist on the Bramble with Epernay. Using Belvedere, poppy liquor, sugar and lemon, the short yet powerful drink set us up nicely for the trip across the corridor to the The Lord Mayor’s Parlour and three of Manchester’s tiki bars.

Starting with The Liars Club and El Dorado, they created a Liars Club Party Punch using ingredients such as El Dorado 5yr, Prosecco, apple and grapefruit juice, Yorkshire tea and sugar. It came complete with an El Dorado cake courtesy of rum lover North West Nosh! Keko Moko were up next partnering with Chairman’s Reserve to create The Keko Fizz – both Chairman’s Reserve and their Spiced variety as well as cloudy apple juice, egg white, lime, passion fruit liqueur and ting. Described as ‘definitely tiki’, the next and last bar of the evening, Hula, had its work cut out with Havana Seleccion de Maestros. Creating an El Presidente using Havana Club, sweet vermouth, Cointreau and grenadine, the classic went down way too easily.

The winners haven’t been announced yet, but I can tell you that it was no easy task to narrow it down for best cocktail, best bar and best personality. If you can, try each of the above cocktails at some point in the bars, they’re definitely worth a try and maybe you can decide for yourselves who you think should be the winners. While you at it, you may want to keep your eyes peeled for next year, a fantastic atmosphere is not to be missed!

Check out the rest of the photos via my Facebook page. Also check out MWarrenDesigns and the view through his camera.

© David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



Absolut Tasting Notes

Absolut vodka is a well-known, pioneering brand all over the world, and recently I’ve been lucky enough to try the original, as well as several of their flavoured options.

But first, how did Absolut come about?

Every drop of Absolut vodka comes from one source – the little-known village of Åhus in southern Sweden. More than 400 years of vodka-making tradition stands behind Absolut. The precursor of today’s Absolut, “Absolut Rent Bränvin” (Absolute Pure Vodka), was introduced in 1879 by the Swedish entrepreneur, Lars Olsson Smith, also known as “The Vodka King” (the medallion on every bottle bears his portrait). Both Absolut and the Absolut flavours are distilled hundreds of times  with the process of continuous distillation, introduced in Sweden by L O Smith and perfected through today. The Absolut flavors are made by blending the vodka with only natural flavors. – no sugar is added.

Every day about 600 tons of winter wheat arrive at the Nöbbelöv Distillery. The wheat is grown in Skåne in southern Sweden and comprises about 20 percent of the total harvest of wheat in this province. Absolut makes the same high demands on its wheat as the food industry, and the suppliers must follow specific demands for minimizing the negative effects of cultivation on the environment. Absolut is Sweden’s largest food and beverage export with 125,000 tons of winter wheat harvested every year. Farmers in southern Sweden combine age-old tradition with the latest in agricultural technology to produce some of the finest winter wheat in the world. Sweden has one of the oldest vodka traditions in the world and in southern Sweden, the climate is ideal for growing winter wheat. The several hundred farmers in southern Sweden contracted by Absolut plant their wheat in September and October. The wheat germinates and grows five to ten centimeters during the mild months of fall. When the frost sets in, the wheat stops growing and lies dormant all winter. In the spring, when the sun and warmth return, the wheat continues to grow – but now at an accelerated pace. The winter wheat being planted this fall will be harvested in August next year and used to produce next year’s supply of Absolut. The wheat is transported from the nearby wheat fields to The Absolut distillery in Nöbbelöv near Åhus, where it is first grinded, then combined with water from the company’s own well.

The Wax Seal

Water to blend Absolut comes from a well in Åhus. The water from this artesian spring dates back as far as the Stone Age. The clean rains that fell over Åhus long before pollution many thousands of years ago, slowly trickled down through layer after layer of moraines and limestone. It was enriched on its way with healthy minerals and salts and eventually formed this artesian spring of perfectly clear water 200 meters below the ground.

The 600 tons of winter wheat that arrive at the Nöbbelöv Distillery every day is cleaned and milled in hammer mills that can process up to 18 tons of wheat per hour. The milled wheat is mixed with the pure spring water to form a mash. An enzyme is also added (a biocatalyst), which helps the starch in the wheat to break down into sugar. For three hours the mash is heated to a maximum of 90° Celsius. The heat releases the starch from the wheat and speeds up the breakdown of starch into sugar. The heat and the long “cooking time” also helps kill any bacteria. Before the fermentation process begins, the mash is chilled and poured into enormous vessels called fermenters, which have a capacity of around 600,000 liters. Yeast is added at the same time. The yeast transforms the freed sugar into ethanol (alcohol). The mash ferments for two days; by then the sugar has been used up and the alcoholic content in the mash is 10%. The fermented mash is pumped into the raw spirit distillation process. The alcohol that forms is distilled off and concentrated to 87% abv, so-called raw spirit. On average the distillery at Nöbbelöv produces 150,000 liters of raw spirit every day, all year round.

The raw spirit is further distilled in order to achieve the correct purity. The method used is called continuous distillation; this implies that the spirit is distilled more than a hundred times in order to achieve the highest possible quality. This revolutionary method was introduced in Sweden by “the King of Vodka” Lars Olsson Smith in 1879. The last remnants of the fusel oil and other impurities disappear at this point, and after distillation the spirit is 96%, now called fine spirit. The entire process takes a little longer than three days.

On average 600,000 bottles of Absolut are produced every day in Åhus. Most Absolut bottles are made in Limmared not far from Åhus, but production also takes place in France. All bottles are manually checked and then rinsed with Absolut. After washing, the bottle is filled with the scheduled variety of Absolut. The same bottling machine is used for all flavours and is washed automatically between flavours. The bottling machines can fill up to 240 bottles per minute. After capping, the bottle is sealed, the modern seal replacing the seals of former times. The seal is now made of plastic, which is heated and “shrunk” on to the bottle and the cap. The most intricate part of the whole bottling process is fixing the medallion showing “the King of Vodka” L.O. Smith on to the bottle. This must not vary by more than 0.5 mm. The bottle is positioned correctly with the aid of marks on the glass, and then the medallion is attached. Apart from the medallion, there is also a back label and in certain cases an importer’s label on the bottle.

Some of the Absolut Range

So has the ‘vodka king’ done his country proud? Well below I give to you my tasting notes on each –

Absolut Blue – 40%

Clean on the nose with a slight hint of wheat. Smooth as it hits the palate, with tons of liquorice on a short offering.

Absolut Peach – 40%

Very strong peach aromas on the nose results in a harsh hit on the palate that mellows out. A little dry on the end.

Absolut Kurant – 40%

Fresh dark berries mix well on the nose with a good, long finish that combines subtle currant flavours.

Absolut Vanilla – 40%

Soft vanilla nose that’s inviting for a long, rich finish on the palate.

Absolut Pear – 40%

On the nose it’s very fresh and sweet. with the freshness carrying on to the palate with light tones of pear creating a long finish.

Absolut Mandarin – 40%

Lots of fresh mandarin aromas on the nose, although quickly disappears on the palate. Very short.

Absolut Raspberri – 40%

Strong, overpowering aromas of raspberry hits the nose and palate, but mellows out quickly with a burst at the end.

Absolut Elyx
Absolut Elyx

Absolut Ruby Red – 40%

No immediate aroma on the nose with very little happening until it hits your palate. Mouth watering slow bursts of grapefruit creates a long finish.

Absolut Citron – 40%

Subtle, smooth citrus flavours on the nose, with an almost creamy offering on the palate. Likened to a lemon meringue.

Absolut Pepper – 40%

On the nose, a smooth dance of spice, hots up on the palate but mellows quickly resulting in a long, long after-taste.

Absolut Berri Acai – 40%

An instant hit of blueberry that moves quickly into the aromas of the pomegranate and acai. On the palate, the acai hits first, with the blueberry following in a big burst and then finishing with a warm feeling of pomegranate.

There’s been a new variation that has shaken the Swedish vodka tree with the introduction of Absolut Elyx in 2010. The combination of using manual processes, craftmanship and attention to detail by human instead of machine through every aspect of its production. The single estate wheat from Råbelof castle in Sweden is distilled by hand in a 1921 copper still.  Every part of the production, from the planting of the first seed, all the way through distillation and bottling, is performed within a 25 km radius in the Åhus region of Southern Sweden. The water comes from the natural underground spring, upon which the copper distillery rests. Filtered through the limestone bedrock, the water is exceptionally pure, low in minerals and incredibly soft.

Absolut Elyx – 40%

Clean on the nose with a distinct flavour of the wheat coming through. Very clean on the palate, with a growing flavour of fresh wheat, smooth water and a mouth-watering finish. Lingers with hints of dryness.

Recommended to be drunk neat with a huge block of ice, or with one of these –


Absolut Elyx Vesper

Glass –


Ingredients – 

30 ml Absolut Elyx
30 ml Lillet Blanc
30 ml Beefeater 24

Method – 

Measure Absolut Elyx, Lillet Blanc and Beefeater 24 into a mixing tin. Fill three-quarters full with ice and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupette glass. Press oil from the lemon twist over the drink and serve.


Absolut Blackberry Attraction

Glass – 


Ingredients –

30 ml Absolut Blue
60 ml Cranberry Juice
5 Whole blackberries
1 Twist of lime

Method –

Fill a rocks glass with ice cubes. Add all ingredients. Garnish with lime.

A cracking range of vodka, especially the Elyx. Worthy of having a couple of the flavours in your drinks cabinet, and they wouldn’t ruin a night-out at your local bar.

Check out the rest of the photos, taken at Canvas Lounge, via my Facebook page.

© David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.