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1–2 July 2024
Olympia London

Global influence: cocktail inspiration from global culinary traditions

Bartenders draw on a wide variety of influences when creating cocktails, whether it’s making use of the local spirits from countries around the world, or increasingly taking inspiration from the many diverse culinary traditions across the globe.

‘As the world is more connected than ever, people are casting their nets far and wide to find flavours and combinations that haven't been explored before,’ says Will Meredith, co-founder of drinks consultancy Daisy Age Drinks, and drinks consultant for Permanently Unique Group, which includes Greek and Mediterranean-inspired Fenix, and Chinese restaurant Tattu.

Alessandro Mannello, group bars manager for London’s JOIA Bar, with its focus on Portuguese and Spanish flavours, and The Brush Lounge and Cocktail Bar, taking influence from Italy and France, agrees. ‘The UK’s offering is increasingly shaped by the wider world,’ he says. ‘The popularity of themed bars that offer immersive experiences is also increasing, allowing guests to try a variety of traditions blended with modernised techniques.’

Asian influences

A growing number of UK bars have been drawing on Asia’s multifaceted culinary traditions. ‘Over the past few years, Asian ingredients took to the fore, with people using miso, seaweed, a range of teas, dashi, and koji, to name a few,’ says Meridith.

One example is Japanese restaurant Iné in London’s Hampstead, where the cocktail list draws on elements of Japanese cuisine, as well as its drinks. ‘Sakes, shochu, and liqueurs are all used to substitute the spirits in traditional cocktails,’ says head sommelier Bowie Tsang, who speaks further about the collaboration between the bar and kitchen. ‘Japan has been a great influence not only for our bartenders but for our chefs, which creates more cocktail pairing opportunities. For example, sake lees is used in both food as a marinade, and in cocktails too.’

At Hakkasan, meanwhile, cocktails take the same inspiration from China as the food does. ‘The cocktails at Hakkasan are definitely influenced by traditional methods and craft from China, especially the use of ingredients that are familiar to modern Chinese cuisine like cardamom, goji berries and tea,’ says TAO Group Hospitality head of bar Wendy Hopkins.

Hakkasan’s list includes drinks such as Good as Gold, combining both Oolong tea and cold brew Darjeeling tea with gin. ‘We really try to bring the tradition and authenticity of Chinese tea to our cocktail making,’ says Hopkins.

For the second outpost of London Sri Lankan restaurant Kolamba, set to open this summer, the plan is to continue to draw on the country's spirits and ingredients for its cocktail list. ‘For Kolamba East, we're working on a slightly more serious cocktail menu, with riffs on classics that add Sri Lankan flavours through infusions, syrups and clarifications,’ says general manager Amy Meacock. ‘We're excited to be playing around with chutneys, cashew orgeats and some coconut fat-washing, and there will definitely be some chilli in there somewhere.’

Flavours of Latin America

Much like Asia, Latin America offers a treasure trove of cocktail inspiration. One of the best showcases of this region is Notting Hill cocktail bar Viajante87. ‘Our entire menu is inspired by global culinary traditions that we experienced when travelling through Latin America,’ says bar director Pietro Collina.

Drinks from the bar’s Be Courageous section include a Mole Manhattan based on black mole from Oaxaca, while Leche De Bichos uses grasshoppers, or chapulines, a popular snack in Mexico, as well as Mexican fermented dairy product jocoque.

There are some specific ingredients from Latin America on Collina’s radar now, starting with Brazil’s amburana seed. ‘It's a very exciting ingredient that creates a lot of aromatics – I think people should make more use of it,’ he says. ‘Another one is pixtle from Mexico, the pit of the mamey fruit that has a taste similar to almond. And finally, one to really get excited about is a fruit called lúcuma, from Peru, which has a beautiful rich toffee profile - we use it in our Lúcuma Colada.’

Viajante87 not only draws on the culinary traditions and ingredients of Latin America, but its drinking traditions too. ‘We celebrate the Carajillo, a super popular drink enjoyed in Mexico City over lunch, and also have our Puerto Di Pisco which is based off of the Chilcano, one of the most popular drinks in Peru,’ says Collina. Traditionally it's made with Pisco and ginger ale but ours is pisco and tonic that's elevated with palo santo and citrus.’

Collina highlights Mexico as a particular source of inspiration for bartenders in recent times. ‘It's had a real spotlight on it for the last couple of years in a culinary sense and offers so much in terms of drinks. We're seeing a lot of use of things like corn and different kinds of chillies, as well as the use of sesame and more unique herbs like epazote.’

European cocktails

For UK bartenders, there’s a wealth of culinary tradition, as well as local drinks and ingredients, to draw on much closer to home. At La Petite Maison (LPM) in London, inspiration comes from the Mediterranean, and the French Riviera in particular. ‘LPM’s entire cocktail menu is a tribute to the laid-back glamour of the South of France,’ says bar manager Samanta Duerr.

A signature drink at LPM is the Tomatini, on the list since 2007, and a fine example of a Mediterranean-influenced cocktail. ‘The Tomatini is a perfect concoction of vodka, ripe campari tomatoes from Italy, white balsamic vinegar, a touch of sugar, and a pinch of salt & pepper - garnished beautifully with a vine tomato,’ explains Duerr.

At Iberian-influenced JOIA Bar, the team takes a famous drink from the region, Sangria, and gives it a modern twist by clarifying it. ‘The final product is an elevated serve that tastes exactly as tradition dictates but looks completely different – the perfect mix between classic Iberian tradition, UK ingredients and modern techniques,’ says Mannello.

Playing on its Greek influences, Fenix features a Dirty Old Fashioned on the list, with an olive oil fat wash, as well as olives and oregano, all sourced from a Greek supplier. As Meridith explains: ‘What I have always found fun when bringing in flavours or references from culinary traditions outside of the UK is bringing familiar serves that consumers understand and sprinkling in flavours from the referenced regions to bring out that point of curiosity in the drinks.’

For more, don’t miss masterclasses at Imbibe Live this year including Hues of Culture at GŎNG Bar, Shangri-La The Shard: Exploring Asian Cultures Through The Spectrum of Colour, and Introduction to Moutai: China's Best-Known Spirit.

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