It’s that time of year again. The dazed and confused wander London’s streets in rumpled, slept-in clothes, cradling their heads, clutching their stomachs, and uttering agonized groans. Are they extras auditioning for “The Walking Dead,” or…could it be…the actual ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE?
No, my friends. It’s something far more dangerous. It’s London Cocktail Week.
Through the 9th of October, 250 bars around the city will be offering £5 cocktails to folks who have purchased a £10 wristband—and that’s not even counting all the free samples. If you’re familiar with the usual prices in London’s bars, you’ll recognize that’s a small price to pay for a very big hangover.
One of the key venues is Old Spitalfields Market, which has been transformed into a “Cocktail Village” with nearly 40 stands. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a village where I’d like to live FOREVER…which might not be that long, considering how quickly my liver would give out.
One standout for me is Arbike Highland Estate’s “Smoky & Smooth Chilli Vodka,” among a trio of “gluten free” spirits from the Scottish distillery. I have no idea if most spirits contain gluten, but I can tell you this—the chilli vodka definitely packs some heat.
If that tongue-tingler leaves your tastebuds feeling hotter than a Texas summer, have no fear. You can cool down your palette with Cheers’ alcohol-laced ice cream. (Definitely not a sweet treat for the kiddos).
Or cue up for a free sample of Bailey’s Pumpkin Spice liqueur. It’s so deliciously moreish that they stamp your hand to keep folks from finagling seconds. (Of course, you DO have two hands…)
For genuine jelly legs, visit the Bodeans’ BBQ bar for a cocktail made with double oaked and double smoked Jim Beam bourbon…topped with smoky vodka. The vodka is soon to be replaced by a floater of smoky tequila, when supplies arrive. Either way, when combining two lethally strong spirits, what could possibly go wrong? (The photo of this drink below may be a bit blurry, but then, so was I.)
The most creative stand, though, is undoubtedly Cointreau. It’s also one of the easiest to find, as it’s designed like a supersized version of the brand’s distinctive square shaped bottle.
Alfred Cointreau, whose family founded Cointreau six generations ago, explains that the kiosk is actually an updated model of the one built by his great-great-great-grandfather Edouard in 1904. So the concept of the pop-up bar didn’t originate in Shoreditch or New York, but in Angers, France, where the brand is headquartered. (Now there’s a fact to keep under your hat for your next quiz night.)
According to Cointreau, this pure liqueur, flavoured with sweet and bitter orange peels, is featured in more than 350 cocktail recipes—and you can sample four of them here at Spitalfields.
At the brand’s own stand, sip on a Cointreau Fizz. Served in a miniature version of the iconic bottle, this cheerful little libation is a refreshing and easy-drinking blend of Cointreau, ice, lime juice and sparkling water.
The main bar also incorporates Cointreau in their Margarita and a sumptuous Sidecar, served in an old-fashioned wide-brimmed champagne glass sweetened with sugar around the rim. Finally, the Sipsmith Gin Shop offers the aptly-named Corpse Reviver No. 2, a classic originated by Henry Craddock, head bartender at The Savoy in the 20s and 30s.
As for young Alfred himself, Cointreau is in his blood…and in his bloodstream, ever since he was a child. “We have a tradition in my family,” he explains. “When you’re baptized at about six-months old, my grandfather gives the baby a bottle with a dash of Cointreau.”
Later, his grandmother taught Alfred and his siblings the fine art of blending Cointreau cocktails. “It’s quite natural for us to play with a cocktail shaker,” he shrugs with a smile.
Yes, in some families a baby gets a rattle. For Cointreau kin, it’s a cocktail shaker.
Little wonder, then, that Alfred has developed an abiding affection for the grande old dame of orange liqueurs. “I view Cointreau as a lady,” he says. “She is 167 years old. I wanted to be the next one to take care of her. For the seventh generation…we’ll see.”
But Alfred is already laying the groundwork. Last Christmas, he gave his own young daughter a plush toy cocktail shaker. Let’s hope it stirs a passion within her to look after dear Madame Cointreau in her dotage.