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Talking about gin cocktails with bartenders

In celebration of bartender appreciation day we asked the head bartenders of The Maven and Blind Tyger to talk about gin, cocktails and everything in between.

Bartenders have played a massive role in the huge rise in popularity that both gin and cocktails have seen over the last few years helping drinkers discover some amazing new gins and creating new drinks to showcase them.

To celebrate bartenders we thought we’d find two of the most creative and talented bartenders working today, Beckie Apley of Blind Tyger and Claudio Antonino of The Maven, both in Leeds, and pick their brains about the changing face of bartending, cocktails and gin.

Blind Tyger's famous popcorn maitai

Becky Apley is the head bartender at Blind Tyger, a speakeasy-style joint from the same people behind popular Leeds spots Smokestack and Sandinista. With table service and a laid back atmosphere Blind Tyger is a more relaxed venue, ideal for taking your time over a well-prepared cocktail and enjoying every element of it.

How did you get into bartending and mixology?

I've always worked in hospitality, but bartending specifically? Probably seeing us girls always asked to stay on the floor, and the boys to go behind the bar drove me to say; "Hey, I can do that just as well as them!" which, it turns out, we can.

What goes into developing a new cocktail for Blind Tyger?

There's a lot I could say here about the hours of research we put into these things but I think the most important answer to this one is play! You can't be creative without joy, messing around and trying new things. No matter how seriously we take ourselves, the best thing to do with alcohol is to have fun with it.

What changes have you noticed in the cocktail world over the past few years?

I think if you look at how our attitudes to food have changed, and how millennials and subsequent generations are becoming 'foodies' more and more vocally, it's natural that the same obsession would develop with alcohol. Certainly our slowly more progressive attitudes mean cocktails are now far more accepted and accessible to people who don't fall into the 'Carrie Bradshaw Cosmopolitan' demographic. The improvement in quality of products used in cocktails and the rising interest help each other out: it's a virtuous circle that doesn't seem to be slowing down. All of that aside, in whatever incarnation people enjoy this kind of leisure time, I don't think there's ever been a time when humans didn't 'eat, drink, and be merry', so perhaps we're claiming responsibility for improving something that society is always going to enjoy.

And what do you think lies in the future?

Blue drinks. Obviously I appreciate why they had a bad rep in the past, but enough time has passed, bartenders of the world! Blue drink anyone? (Can you tell what my new year's resolutions will all be based around?!) I think the pop-up-bar is on the rise, and for as long as we can possibly keep a sustained interest, small-batch spirits, tiny unique distilleries, and a larger variety of products available to industry and consumers alike. Pop up bar's with unique, artisan-crafted-small-batch BLUE DRINKS.

Strathearn Gin

What's your favourite gin?

I'm all about the Scots and their magical way with alcohol. So, for my big name, can't go wrong, usually go for it if I want something simple but beautiful, it'd be a gin from Tanqueray. For something that barely needs any modification, a really special gin in my opinion, I'd look straight at The Botanist. For a real left-field gin that I've been playing with at home, Strathearn's Heather Rose Gin, is pretty unique.

Favourite gin based cocktail?

The question that every bartender fears. I mean, obviously it's a 'Last Word', the drink I could enjoy in any situation, any time of day, a drink almost impossible to mess up. It's perfectly balanced, and you can drink as many of them as imaginable without ever getting sick of them. Which also perfectly describes a completely different drink, that's probably my favourite, the Negroni. But then, I'd be lying, because the only drink I'd walk a thousand miles for would be a gin martini, anywhere between wet and bone dry, olives or lemon, or OH NO! Of course, with cocktail onions - a Gibson - so ginny-savoury-delicious. That one. But then... how could I forget the best gin cocktail, the Aviation! So versatile! So delicate! But then the best thing about a spirit this rich in history, this varied in flavor, and this, well, mixable, is the thousands of new twists people are trying, the lost or forgotten classics.

In your opinion, how should a Martini be made properly?

Now there's a loaded question! Short answer: how you interpret from a customer what they want from a martini? Expanding a little, whatever method you are asked to use, opt to use, or experiment with using, just follow the same rules as making any drink properly - clean equipment, good quality ice used once and once only, chilling your glass down, and most importantly asking questions or explaining options so that the customer can make an informed decision.

When I first saw this question, I started a thesis that went from Dutch gin and Martinez's all the way beyond the vodka revolution and the pornstar martini, and then a customer said: “doesn't he just want to know if you shake or stir them?” This of course led to a long protracted evening of taste testing anything we could put in a martini glass, mostly different combinations of shaken and stirred vespers (thanks, Spectre). Needless to say I abandoned the martini dissertation in favour of drinking them. Come visit me in Blind Tyger and you can try anything from a genever martinez, maraschino and all, to a dry, dirty, martini with olives, like they order 'in the movies'.

What changes have you seen in customers over the past few years?

They're far more informed, they're more willing to ask questions, and not afraid to complain, which in my opinion is a good thing. Generations before were led to believe that not liking something was probably their fault, not ours, but today's consumer is more open to questioning the quality of their products, which keeps us on our feet.

What's one thing you'd really like to tell your customers?

STOP. SAYING. GLASSWARE. HAS. A. SEXUALITY. OR. GENDER. I have finally lost all patience with people who ask for a glass that is 'girlier' or 'manlier'. Anyone who has ever uttered the offensive and ignorant sentence 'could my glass be any gayer!' in Blind Tyger is politely and firmly re-educated. It's not only that glasses are chosen for a specific reason, and add more than you can imagine to your drinking experience, but what's more concerning and offensive is the notion of gender that leads to groups of people feeling uncomfortable trying certain drinks that might change their life forever. The Sex on the Beach and that heavily peated Scotch are no less worthy, or no more enjoyed by any specific group of people.

What should people do to show their appreciation on the 4th December?

Manners cost nothing, and they make our day. Alternatively, if you're feeling very appreciative, buy us a drink, and we'll happily chat gin with you all evening.

The Maven Logo

The Maven’s Claudio Antonino has been in the drinks world since he was 14, starting by collecting glasses in his brother’s bar in Portugal. He opened The Maven in 2012. Hidden behind an unmarked door, The Maven is a moody and atmospheric speakeasy, dripping with cool and inventive drinks.

What goes into designing a new cocktail for The Maven?

The effect we try to achieve is a different and pleasant experience from every cocktail made by us. We work with in-season products, fruits, etc ... and we change our menu every 3 months.

We love our classic cocktails so we try and create modern twists of the classics and educate people to what is the original drink and the modern version. We keep our sugar levels as low as possible but we accommodate our drinks to our guests palates.

What changes have you noticed in the cocktail world over the past few years?

Lots, good ones and bad ones but mostly good ones. We are going through a golden cocktail era and I see people drinking more and more cocktails with more brands investing in the industry and consumer training. Which is great for both parties.

What's your favourite gin based cocktail?

It's all about the Gibson for me.

In your opinion, how should a Martini be made properly?

With good ice, good products, a chilled glass and a complementing garnish.

What's one thing you'd like customers to start doing?

Explore more of the spirits in the back bar. There are so many wonderful and tasty drinks.

What should people do to show their appreciation on the 4th December?

Go out to their favourite bar and have a drink with your favourite bartender and don't forget to tip every time you had a good service.

So why not show your appreciation by heading out and talking to the bartender at your favourite spot. They always enjoy talking about booze and you might find a new favourite gin.

Talking about gin cocktails with bartenders



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