17 November 2014

Birthday Celebrations Part II: Gin, Gin and More Gin

Saturday morning began with the most virtuous of intentions: I went to the gym and Turkish baths at the Royal Automobile Club, and then had scrambled eggs for breakfast while giving Mum her birthday gifts. After a brief burst of window shopping on Regent Street, we Ubered our way south of the river, and by noon, we were drinking gin cocktails at Little Birdmy favourite way to celebrate my birthday or, y'know, any Saturday. Little Bird's Perfect G&T is pretty close to perfection.

To celebrate my increasing decrepitude, I met a group of friends at the newly reopened Beefeater gin distillery in Kennington. They started doing distillery tours in May this year (£12) and it seemed like the perfect birthday activity for me — and my similarly gin-enamoured friends.

The tour takes about an hour: the first part is a self-guided walk through the history of Beefeater (and gin more generally), and then we met up with our friendly, informative guide, who talked us through the gin-making process, including distilling. He also showed us the botanicals used in Beefeater gin, although not the magic botanical combination, which is as closely guarded a secret as the recipe for a certain fizzy drink.

At the end of the tour, our newfound gin knowledge was rewarded with a Beefeater G&T — they always serve theirs with lemon, hence the yellow, not green, garnish. We also tried a small sample of two other Beefeater gins in the gift shop; my favourite was the London Garden gin, which is only available to buy at the distillery shop. I was tempted to buy a bottle, but my gin stocks are currently very well stocked thanks to thoughtful birthday gifts but maybe another time.

We then winged our way over to the Draft House, near Tower Bridge, for dinner and yet more drinking. The food at Draft House is US-influenced pub grub: burgers, wings, pulled pork rolls, hot dogs and so on. They also have a huge selection of beers, but I kept the gin train going with a Hendrick's G&T.

The real reason for going to the Draft House was to visit the Bump Caves, a new bar in the basement that calls itself an anti-speakeasy: they make great, creative cocktails with interesting ingredients, quirky juxtapositions and plenty of theatre. Downstairs there are a few tables around the bar but we managed to secure one of the eponymous caves, a cosy, intimate space with brightly coloured lighting and a great soundtrack.

Between us, we tried most of the cocktails on the menu (they are all under £10). I started with the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test #EKAAT — how could I resist a hashtag? — which involved malt, Campari, vermouth, Piquepoul and, intriguingly, "9V and acid". Indeed, my drink arrived with a little packet of white powder (fructic acid) and a battery. I was encouraged to add some of the acid to my drink and observe how the flavour changed. I was also urged to lick the battery and see how that changed the flavour. Based on the experiences of my friends, it seems that I am the only person ever not to have licked a battery as a kid and it took me about 20 minutes to work up the nerve. I'm not sure how much it affected the taste of my drink, but it was good fun.

My second drink was slightly less dramatic but just as unusual: the barrel-aged Hi / Rye, which involved rye, hibiscus, "Bump Picon", vermouth and time. Given the last ingreident, I thought I might get a new watch, but I guess that the time had just been pre-arranged. It also came with a pickle for maximum flavour combining. Oddly enough, it worked really well. Bump Caves also does mixology classes and distill-your-own-gin sessions, so it's a cool place. All in all, it was a colourful, tasty and fun end to an excellent birthday weekend.

Beefeater Distillery. 20 Montford Place, London, SE11 5DE (Tube: Oval or Kennington). Website. Twitter.

Bump Caves. 206-208 Tower Bridge Road, London, SE1 2UP (Tube: London Bridge). Website. Twitter.

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