What? Not another one? Is there really room for another book about cocktails? Well, there certainly is when the author is Matt Whiley. Whiley has been one of the leading lights in the boom of the London cocktail scene, so much so that The Evening Standard counted him as one of the top 1000 most influential Londoners.
Whiley produces mind-blowingly creative cocktails and has founded several of London’s top cocktail bars, including Peg+Patriot, Purl London and Worship Street Whistling Shop. His latest, Scout, opened in Shoreditch earlier this year. As if all that didn’t keep him busy enough, he creates his own cordials, syrups, bitters, cocktails and spirits like Dog’s Nose Hop Gin. And he somehow found time to write this fascinating book giving his take on The Modern Cocktail and revealing some of his cocktail recipe secrets.
The book’s subtitle is Flavour + Innovation, which just about sums it up. Whiley reveals early on that his major influence is from chefs: ‘I am always influenced by the way they work with produce and the respect they have for it.’ He brings this across to the cocktail world in that his menus and recipes will change seasonally, and he also works with foraged ingredients so that what goes into his drinks is fresh, seasonal and local.
It’s always a pleasure to read someone who is both passionate and knowledgeable. There’s a fascinating section on understanding flavours, and flavour combinations, which will help anyone refine their palate. He reveals that at his Peg+Patriot bar they only stock two vodkas (Konik’s Tail and Aylesbury Duck): ‘overall vodka doesn’t range vastly so I don’t feel the need to stock any more.’
So who is the book aimed at? Apart from a professional audience, as surely every bartender in the world will be absorbed by what Whiley has to say, it’s very much for the person who likes making cocktails at home and wants to up their game by several notches.
Whiley gives advice, for example, on what bitters you might want to stock at home, and there are two sections on cocktail equipment. One describes what he regards as a basic cocktail kit for the novice, while the other goes on to include ‘Equipment for the Enthusiast’. This includes items such as a rotary evaporator and a centrifuge – serious stuff, which will set you back several hundred quid!
The bulk of the book is made up of Whiley’s innovative recipes. This is no ordinary cocktail recipe book. Some of the recipes require you to make several ingredients yourself before you put everything together into the finished cocktail. They certainly make you admire even more the skills and know-how of a gifted mixologist.
To make Whiley’s TMF Bloody Mary, you first have to make his clarified spiced tomato mix, which is pretty straightforward, and then mix it with something that combines two of my favourite things: black pudding vodka! In fact Whiley’s recipe requires you to use three things (black pudding, vodka and pig’s blood) which seal in a vac bag and leave overnight in a water bath to cook everything through. This is when you then need a rotary evaporator to complete the process, and only then are you ready to make your Bloody Mary. But what a Bloody Mary!
Other cocktails require you to prepare ingredients such as burnt beetroot vodka, purple carrot vodka and fermented rhubarb. Well, remember that subtitle, Flavour + Innovation. That’s certainly what you get in this gorgeous book.