On this episode of “Cocktail College,” host Tim McKirdy is joined by author, drinks historian, master distiller, and founder of Sipsmith Gin, Jared Brown. The two explore the modern classic cocktail the Bramble, and discuss how this drink came to reach icon status over the past few decades. The pair reflect on the life of Dick Bradsell, inventor of the Bramble, a pioneer within Britain’s cocktail movement, and close contemporary of Brown’s. Tune in to learn more.
Dick Bradsell’s Bramble Recipe
- 50 milliliters London dry gin
- 25 milliliters lemon
- 10 milliliters simple syrup
- 20 milliliters crème de mûre
- Blackberries and powdered sugar to garnish
- Combine gin, lemon, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice.
- Shake until cold and strain into a double Old Fashioned glass filled with crushed ice.
- Top up with more crushed ice and top with crème de mûre, ideally pouding around the edges of the glass.
- Garnish with two blackberries and a dusting of powdered sugar.
Check Out The Conversation Here
Tim McKirdy: Hey, this is Tim McKirdy, and welcome to VinePair’s “Cocktail College,” a weekly deep dive into classic cocktails that goes beyond the recipe with America’s best bartenders. Not only the name of the house that I grew up in, the Bramble is one of the most famous, modern classic cocktails to come out of the U.K. It was created by Dick Bradsell, a pioneer within Britain’s cocktail movement and the inventor of the Espresso Martini, who sadly passed away in 2016. Carrying the torch for Dick today is Jared Brown. A friend, and contemporary of Bradsell’s who also just happens to be the founder of the wonderful Gin Brand, Sipsmith. Jared is also a wealth of knowledge on pretty much everything relating to drinks history. And along with his wife, Anastasia Miller, he owns a publishing company that just released Bradsell’s cocktail book, “Dicktales.” Just going to leave that one hanging there. Our conversation today is going to lead us into such wide ranging topics as iceless Bloody Marys, entering one of London’s most vaunted celebrity hangouts via the men’s bathroom window, and a bizarre cocktail that resembles a lava lamp. Oh, and we’re also going to go well beyond the recipe on the Bramble, the topic of today’s show, because that’s what we do here on the “Cocktail College” podcast. We’re in the VinePair studio. It’s a wonderful, wonderful day here today and I am so happy to be joined by Jared Brown, Sipsmith. Welcome to the show. Thank you so much for joining us.
Jared Brown: Thank you. It’s wonderful to be here.
The History of the Bramble
T: We’re here to chat about the Bramble today. One of, I would argue, a handful of “modern classics”, that’s deserving of the title, that really has broken through as being one of these icons of the past couple of decades, these new drinks. Before we dive into our exploration there, can you just briefly highlight the components of this cocktail for anyone who might know its name, but is not particularly familiar with the drink itself?
J: Certainly. Like most drinks that Dick Bradsell created, this drink has a very simple structure, not a lot of ingredients. It’s gin, lemon, simple syrup, crème de mûre — blackberry liqueur — and garnished with a couple of fresh blackberries and a little bit of a dusting of icing sugar.
T: Very nice. And yeah, like you said, very, very simple cocktail there. I think three of the ingredients most folks would have at home, maybe the one that they’re going out and having to look for there is the crème de mûre, the blackberry liqueur. But I’m hoping that over the course of today’s show, we’re going to convince them that’s something they should be doing if they don’t have one already. We like to begin by diving into the history of drinks. It is of course easier when these are modern classics, because a lot of the folks are either still around or it’s in recent memory. You mentioned right there, that Dick Bradsell, huge figure in the U.K. and particularly the London cocktail scene. Can you share with us today the backstory of this drink and any kind of interactions that you’ve had or relationships working with Dick there?
J: Actually, it’s funny that you should ask this and perfect timing because my wife and I also have a publishing company, Mixellany Books and we have just released Dick Bradsell’s autobiography.
J: “Dicktales” is now up on Amazon, available. And what we did was we took all of the notes that he had written on drinks. He’d illustrated them all, so rather than typing them in, we just photographed them all so you can read it all in his handwriting. And I think he’s got three or four pages on the Bramble.
J: And so really deep dives. And there’s no question, but what he wrote, because it’s there in his handwriting and you can really explore the drink exactly as he specified; he illustrates it in a number of illustrations. He refers to coming up with the Bramble as his Madeleine moment, referring to Proust, an involuntary memory of eating Madeleine as a child. And it was that moment, tasting the Bramble liqueur on this drink and being taken straight back to his childhood of picking brambles, blackberries.
T: So incredible there, and is that also something that’s a theme for different drinks in this book for Dick or is the kind of three pages is he going deeper on this one than others? I mean, I might argue that, perhaps wrongfully, the drink of Dick’s that’s better known of course, is the Espresso Martini or the Vodka Espresso as he primarily named it. But this is the one that I think the enthusiasts really love.
J: Now, the Espresso Martini actually had a third name as well, the Pharmaceutical Stimulant, because Dick was head bartender for Damien Hirst when Damien Hirst had a pharmacy in Notting Hill. And so it was named the Pharmaceutical Stimulant.
T: Wow. And Dick was someone… Can you explain kind of your background as well, getting into this industry and also how you and Dick, maybe your paths first crossed and then continued to work together after that?
J: Oh, Dick Bradsell, father of modern British bartending. If you meet a great bartender with a background in London, he was either trained by Dick or worked for someone who was trained by Dick, but his influence is astonishingly broad and deep. And he was just extremely passionate about drinks from an early age, from when he got started. Somebody recommended David Embury’s “Fine Art of Mixing Drinks” to him. And he just took that on as a Bible for making drinks and it is a great one for that. And found himself to be a phenomenal bartender, a great palate, a great business sense, wonderful host, ability to keep people awake, keep them shocked, surprised, and enjoying themselves. He would frequently show up in a dress behind the bar with maybe a blonde wig and a beret and a look on his face like, “Yeah, go ahead, say something.” He also had been a hardcore punk back in the day, so quite a character. Some other surprises with Dick, if you’re familiar with calm music, the English Beat, he co-wrote the song “Twist and Crawl.”
T: Wow. We’re searching that one. Yeah, we’ll find that one on YouTube or all major music providers there?
J: And conclusive proof that he did it in “Dicktales.”
T: In “Dicktales.”
T: Wonderful name for a book, by the way.
J: He chose the name himself and I have no doubt that he’s somewhere having a great laugh because when you look on Amazon, there it is. And the only other books that show up under that same name is a gay porn series.
T: Yep. You would imagine he’s up there somewhere having a laugh right now and leaving that legacy just for an extra little chuckle for himself and probably, I’m sure, everyone who knew him. So where’s Dick working when he comes up with this drink, how does it also relate to other drinks out there? Many of these modern classics are inspired by known drinks or formulas that are already out there. So where does he get his inspiration for this? And where does he debut it?
J: In the early ’80s, Dick was working in a members club called Zanzibar in London. He was working with another bartender named Fred Taylor and Fred and Dick decided they would open a bar. It became known as Fred’s because Fred had the investment money for it. And it was at Zanzibar that Dick was making a lot of Singapore Slings. So gin, cherry heering, Bénédictine, lemon juice, soda water etc. In a tall thin glass, Pilsner glass, filled with crushed ice. Then somebody brought him a bottle of crème de mûre and he gave that a try, replaced the cherry heering with crème de mûre in the Zanzibar Singapore Sling and dearly loved the drink. But when they opened Fred’s he dropped the Bénédictine, dropped the soda water and that’s how it became the Bramble, was that structure. But it had taken him straight back to his childhood on the Isle of Wight, memories of cuts all over his arms and face all colored purple by the brambles, the blackberries they were eating. And he had wanted to make a drink that was all English as well. A very nationalist structure to it and of ingredients and flavor. And they were, strictly speaking, I think he was using a French crème de mûre, not the rest of it certainly, well, there was, but there were also some Spanish lemons in there.
T: That idea that… I mean that those Bramble fruits are very kind of evocative of the British countryside and actually, fun little fact here. The house that I grew up in or spent the majority of my childhood and young adulthood in was called The Brambles. That was the name of the… It was No. 7 on the street, but it had the name The Brambles, and there were bramble bushes there. So certainly for me, it does seem to be a very English and kind of British idea.
J: Oh yeah. Truly. And let’s see, reading from the book from “Dicktales:” “At Fred’s club, invented the Bramble liqueur, reminded me of my childhood, blackberries in autumn or summer, color covered in purple, a British drink. And the Bramble, I wanted to invent an English drink, a British cocktail. So I used the spirit, soured, sweetened and flavored template.” So there he’s already talking about the balance. “The structure ratio being 50 mil spirit, 25 sour element, 12 and a half mil sweetener, lessened to balance sweetness of the flavoring, the liqueur bit. And gin, lemon juice, sugar, blackberry liqueur as a straight up cocktail doesn’t quite work, so I used the Zanzibar Singapore Sling recipe, 50 mils gin, 25 lemon, 10 mils sugar syrup, over crushed ice in a tall Pilsner glass, topped with soda laced with 15 mil cherry heering, float Bénédictine, orange, lemon, cherry butterfly. Then, some chap from a company brought me a crème de mûre from France. First sip, and I had a Madeleine moment. It reminded me of childhood, foraging for blackberries in East Cowes, Isle of Wight. In season, we would be purple with scratches from trying to grasp wild blackberries from above the — parens — but from above the dogs’ and foxes’ piss line.”
T: I mean, that’s one thing you will learn, sorry to interject here, but that’s one thing you will learn if you are foraging for berries or you’re on a walk in the English countryside, make sure it’s kind of shoulder level when you’re picking those fruits because those berries… Because otherwise you might want to wash them first at least, the very least.
J: Exactly. And Dick says, “So I made this with Spanish lemons, French mûre, and dry gin and in a shaker glass, 50 mils good gin, 25 mils fresh lemon, 10 mils sugar syrup. Even in his own writing, he’s just changed by two and a half mills.” Something that I find frequently happened with Dick, he would do micro adjustments of recipes, even within recipes. Shake with ice. Strain into a double Old Fashioned or regular Old Fashioned, full of crushed ice. Now to put it into context in the early, mid-’80s, it seemed like crushed ice was fad and fashion and it endured up into the early 2000s. Possibly one of the funniest moments for me was in Cuba and somebody ordered Gin and Tonic in a bar in Cuba. And the bartender said, “Oh, I’ve actually been to London. I know exactly how you like to make these.” And he took a tall thin Pilsner glass, and he rammed it full of crushed ice and he poured gin and tonic in it. And he said, I noticed you Brits drink every drink this way.
T: Wow. What a different time right there.
J: Truly. But then he would top up more crushed ice on top of the crushed ice to give it a nice round, fresh head of it, a couple of shortened straws, because you wanted your nose right down at the drink. And a couple of blackberries on top and then lace the top with 12 and a half mils of crème de mûre. And this is the real key because then you’d see the crème de mûre running down in the drink through the crushed ice. And beautiful visuals, not just great color, but motion to it and a gorgeous serve. And so that was the structure of it. He even drew this little picture and parenthetical under it, a lovely trickle.
T: I think that last detail there addresses the question that I was going to ask you immediately after that, maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t, and it’s all really kind of hypothetical or subjective here, but I’m wondering how is this one of the cocktails that becomes involved in that conversation of modern classics? Because crème de mûre, if you’re getting one from a great producer, wonderful ingredient, but maybe not cool for want of a better word, right? But then is it that final detail that trickle there where it’s like, OK, you said the straw is deep, so it brings your nose to the drink. You have this visual. So we’re thinking about this drink on a different level, and that maybe inspires bartenders to say, this is more than an adapted Singapore Sling. Do you think that’s how that helps the fortunes of this drink? Or do you think, how does it become, how does it get its status?
J: I would say that it wins its status in the most fundamental way possible. It is simply, extremely good.
J: And that’s what it comes down to. It’s just a delicious drink. It’s beautifully fresh and balanced. It’s not cloying, it’s not too bitter, it’s not too strong, not too weak. It just hits that sweet spot. And let’s see, I think I can count the number of great drinks made with crème de mûre on one finger. This is it. It’s also unique.
T: Yeah. I think that’s an interesting conversation for categories of spirits as well, right? Like how does a spirit take off? A new spirit, not new, but maybe new to certain palates or certain generations. What does it need? Like it needs status. But having one iconic cocktail that it’s associated with strongly I’m sure really helps. I’m not saying the crème de mûre market is booming right now, but if you have a bottle, you know what you’re doing with it.
J: Absolutely. And interestingly, I’ve gone and reversed this. I’ve tried it with cherry heering and that’s also not a bad drink.
T: I bet. I mean, that’s a wonderful ingredient where a little goes a long way.
T: Really wonderful. And you can stock up there for your Vieux Carrés. You would have your cherry heering on hand for that.
J: And your Straight Sling, your Singapore Sling.
T: Actually, no. It’s not cherry heering in the Veux Carré is it? It’s the… “Remember the Maine” is the one I think that I’m thinking of here.
T: Yes. A decent one. I’m thinking of Bénédictine there, but wonderful, wonderful ingredients there and OK, depends how big of a space you have to make your alcohol collection bigger. But if you do have a space for some of these modifiers, these more kind of out-there ingredients, great to add them, great to have them in your portfolio. So in terms of that time, and again, if I can just ask you how yours and Dick’s paths cross, and also when Dick comes up with this drink, how much of an interaction is there between New York bartenders and London bartenders? I’m not saying that New York’s the center of the universe. We do have a slight focus on New York here being based here, but also just, I think that’s one of the great stories of the last 20 years, the interactions of those two cities and the bartenders within them and the sharing of knowledge and drinks.
J: And actually for this among many other drinks that Dick invented, he repeatedly cites a trip to New York.
T: Oh, wow.
J: And coming to, I think it was the Four Seasons Hotel, which just opened a beautiful bar and they were making a lot of Martinis at that time. It was the ’80s. And a lot of Martinis with liqueurs and it was a huge inspiration moment for him. And I believe this is one of the drinks that also benefited from that.
T: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.
J: But my wife and I first met Dick when a friend had brought us to the Colony Rooms, which was a private club on, I think it was on Dean Street, next to the Groucho, which was the major wild celebrity private club.
T: The club to be at. Does it remain that way to this day?
J: I haven’t been in a while, but Colony Room was just next to it and was owned by, I think Damian Hirst and Francis Bacon. So very much an artists hangout, hidden upstairs, all painted green inside. And we came in, it was a Friday night, the bar was three deep and he shook our hands and said, “What can I bring you?” And I said, “Well, whatever you feel like making.” “Great, have a seat.” Sent us off to a table. And a few minutes later arrived with a round of Gin and Tonics. Honestly, looking back on that, I’m surprised he didn’t just bring us a round of beers because he was that busy. But it certainly wasn’t a moment to expect an Espresso Martini or a Bramble or any of the many, many — he invented hundreds of drinks, but it wasn’t a moment for that. But after he put on the “F*ck Off” song, which he used to close the bar every night and was lyrics like, you can keep on drinking, but you can’t do it here, f*ck off. Perfect song for closing the bar. And then he motioned for us to stay. Now as soon as everybody was out, he let us into the men’s toilet and he opened the window and he climbed out and he reached back and helped us climb out the men’s toilet window. Now we’re standing on a rooftop in Soho and we walked across the rooftop and he opened another window and we climbed into another men’s toilet. And this one was a men’s toilet at the Groucho. Now we walked out of the toilet and a waitress had seen us come out and she said, “Oh, Mr. Bradsell, good to see you. Your table’s ready.” Apparently he’d been doing this for so long they’d given him a membership, but he still refused to use the front door. And we sat, we ordered drinks and he rather solicitously said to me, “What’s your name again?” “Jared Brown.” “Well, Mr. Brown, what would you like to be remembered for?” And I’d rather facetiously replied, “Well, certainly not the Lava Lamp cocktail.” And he said, “Oh God, page 79 of your book. It was horrible. But hang on, you can’t remember my name, but you can remember the page number of the worst drink I ever put into print. Thank you so much.” And it did perfectly recreate a lava lamp visually, one that had been turned off for about six months. It just had a pile of goo sitting at the bottom of it and it went nowhere.
T: Tell us about this drink. This is not a drink that I am familiar with.
J: Oh, this was a vodka that was essentially sitting on a pile of honey mixed with a liqueur that gave it color. And you shouldn’t be familiar with this drink as, thankfully, miraculously, it doesn’t even seem to have made it onto the internet.
T: Oh, wow.
J: And it certainly didn’t make it into the revised and expanded edition of “Shaken Not Stirred: A Celebration of the Martini,” which was actually the book that launched my wife and I into all of this to begin with. So we hit it off from there and got talking. He actually contributed to our revised expanded edition with the proviso that that drink had to be deleted. Oddly, Angus Winchester, then global brand ambassador for Tanqueray Gin, did exactly the same, and agreed to contribute to the new book as long as that drink was deleted.
J: So apparently a few people gave it a try.
T: You know how this… It’s a drink that I immediately want to go out there now and explore just…
J: Oh, don’t please. I’ll give you a worse one than that.
J: It was actually the first drink I ever served to Dale DeGroff. I was tending a bar here in New York at a Saint Patrick’s Day party, somewhere in Chelsea, everybody was being drunk and obnoxious and annoying, and it was a Cosmo. So I’d been chucking up Cosmos for everybody and ran out of triple sec. So everybody had brought green crème de menthe. I grabbed a bottle. I substituted it. It was horrific. At that moment, I didn’t like these people, so I put the drinks up, served them, showing them only the top of my head, not looking up. And just then I see the first drink, a hand comes in and I recognize that big bartender pinky ring. And I hear the voice and I hear him say, “Oh, Jared, thanks so much for inviting us. I’ve had to work all morning. I’m desperate for a drink.” And I’m just about to dive over the bar. “No!” And he’s gone off with the drink, down to the other end of this loft. And I saw him take a sip and stop and look at it for a minute. And I saw him very casually lose that drink and get himself a beer. So Dale, sorry about that one.
T: Were you keeping… Did you keep the cranberry in it as well? So you literally just went with crème de menthe instead of the triple sec and that was it.
T: You were off.
J: Oh, it was so bad. Note: Never put green crème de menthe in a Cosmo.
T: In a Cosmo. And maybe if you want to clear the bar, just resort to Dick’s tactics and put the “F*ck Off” song on.
J: That’s it.
T: That’s an easier one.
The Ingredients Used in The Bramble
T: That’s great. I love these tales. We could talk about those for hours, but you know what else we can talk about for hours? I can and yourself too, is gin. Yourself more than me, but we’re going to now break each ingredient down bit by bit. I mean, we’ve covered crème de mûre a little bit. The lemon juice and simple are fairly simple themselves. But we have you in the house, founder, co-founder of Sipsmith Gin, but your exploration with gin professionally has been many years longer than that. And also, I know you’ve been doing a lot of work now going hundreds of years back when it comes to tracing the history and stuff. A lot to cover. This is going to be difficult for us. One thing I will say, somewhere to start it here, because Sipsmith, in my mind, I recall I was still based in the U.K. at the time, and I remember when Sipsmith launched and it’s been described on the internet as a ginaissance. And we actually spoke recently with Dale DeGroff about the relative merits or the relative kind of work done by Bombay first and then Hendrick’s. But I think notably in those tales, the whole idea is getting a little… steering clear in some senses of the London Dry profile. And so Sipsmith to my mind is this one that comes back and says, no, we’re celebrating London Dry, we’re celebrating gin. And it just explodes. I remember Sipsmith just being everywhere in the U.K., so congratulations on that. My one thing, I guess the one place I’ll start, is just by saying that every single interaction I have with Sipsmith, the one thing that I always appreciate is just how fresh the juniper comes through and gin is juniper, right? So can you talk to us about that? Maybe remind us about the fact that gin is made with fresh ingredients. It’s a distilled spirit, but these are fresh botanicals. Talk to us about that and that philosophy and maybe a little bit of the beginning of the brand.
J: I remember when we started out, it was so funny because we reached out to botanical suppliers for samples. Now, at that time, there were 12 distilleries making gin in Britain, and there were no small distilleries at all. I think it was the Excess Act of 1825 which said no person shall keep a still of under 400 gallons, which is about 1,800 liters, pretty much stops that from ever happening. So the 12 distilleries making gin were all enormous. So we ask for botanical samples and everybody would send us a year’s supply as a sample.
J: Which would’ve been a sample for Beefeater, or Plymouth, or Hendrick’s, or Tanqueray. But that was enough to keep us running for a year. That has changed; I’ve noticed after we kicked the door open by overturning that 1825 Act, there’s now 600 distilleries making gin in Britain. And if you reach out to a botanical supplier, they send you a little Ziploc bag of botanicals and that’s it.
T: Times have changed.
J: But I remember the first way I would judge a juniper that had arrived is I’d roll up my sleeve and I would plunge my arm down into the juniper. Light, dry, that was a bag that needed to be rejected. I wanted to feel the weight and the humidity of the oils in the juniper immediately. So just arm down in, and it feels heavy, and you can feel the cold associated with all the oil in it. And that’s a good bag of juniper to start working with. But the Juniperus chinensis grows subarctic to subtropical all the way around the Northern Hemisphere. And the reason for that is that it came up with a way to get its seed spread very well. What we think of as juniper berries are actually little pine cones, where the scales have become fleshing, formed together to give the appearance of a berry so that birds would eat it, fly off, in their droppings they’d drop the seed. Also surround it by good fertilizer, as bird poo is. And it went everywhere. But the terroir to produce that flavor you’re talking about, that fresh, soft pine sweet citrus that we taste when we taste great gin, that only really happens in the North Mediterranean. It’s hot enough, it’s dry enough. The conditions are rough enough. The soil is poor enough to produce the perfect juniper. Not new news. The Genoese merchants discovered this circuit 1250 A.D. that they had a lucrative export of coals to Newcastle of bringing juniper up to Britain and Germany and Sweden where juniper grew everywhere. But the flavor was just so much better.
J: And you can also thank the plagues for spreading juniper and also bringing juniper into European culture because there was a superstition that the plague was spread by bad aromas, and that juniper would ward off those bad aromas and keep you healthy. So people began to put it in their food, eat it with lamb or duck or pheasant, a beautiful flavor when you’re using juniper there. They bathe in it, garland their homes with it, planted around their houses. And it did work and they didn’t know why it worked, but it turns out juniper was also a fairly effective natural flea repellent.
T: Oh, wow.
J: And I don’t know why no one ever discovered this. I sat up out of a sound sleep, middle of the night, one night, about 10, 12 years ago, grabbed my laptop and Googled juniper flea repellent. And there was the answer.
T: That’s wonderful. I mean, it’s so incredible that these things, that they all intertwine there and the history, and we’re talking about the foundations that come together to really form this category that’s beloved in the U.K,, beloved around the world now, and just has such a storied history and the accidental things that happen there too. You talk about aromas. I mean, my initial experience with juniper was working in the kitchen and there would be a time of year when game season started, we’d start buying juniper, jars and jars of it just to… As soon as that game came in, we’d butcher it down and we’d marinate it, maybe just a little bit of olive oil, some rosemary and juniper, just to help kind of temper… Some of those meats can be pretty strong and juniper does so well there.
J: Oh yeah. Oh, let me put something else to rest. This year, my wife and I will be presenting “The History of Gin” at Tales of The Cocktail. And we’ve pre-recorded this. It’s going to go global video 27 of July. And in it, we completely rewrite the history of gin. Gin did not come over from Holland. It did not evolve from genever. None of that’s true. It was all made up by a writer in 1804, pure fiction. Gin was born much earlier already with complex recipes. We’ve got a 1639 recipe that uses juniper, orange, and lemon peel spices, practically a modern structure from before genever arrived. So watch this space.
T: Reclaiming gin.
J: That’s it.
T: That’s what I like to hear. Always proud of that. We need stuff to be proud of and that’s definitely one to celebrate. When it came to Sipsmith, I guess anyone listening shouldn’t really surprise them now, given your approach to drinks and cocktails and spirits, this historical approach. I’m sure it’s not surprising anyone that you went down the London Dry classic route, rather than what’s become known as new western or new age gin or whatever. But what were you looking to do there other than launch a branded gin to the market? What opportunity did you think existed at the time?
J: Even before we created Sipsmith, my wife and I had a goal. We wanted to revive the gin category and we had already begun taking this on. I think it was 2006. We took over a cinema in London from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and we had representatives of all the gin companies. There weren’t that many so it was easy to get them all. And also bartenders who loved gin, bartenders from the very few gin bars that were out there and got about 100 people into this theater. And started out by doing a bit of a Fidel Castro rant at everyone of how they were all responsible for destroying the category by focusing on the low end of the market, where they were genteelly losing 1, 2 percent a year, but it was still enormous volumes and completely overlooking the high end, which we predicted could grow as much as 100 percent a year, year on year, 10 years at least to think. I just thought, “Watch this space, get in on it and build it. Let’s bring this back. Let’s get people interested. Currently, nobody under 60 is drinking gin. Let’s give them something better to drink.” And then I met my partners, Sam and Fairfax, and we created Sipsmith together. And I feel like we’ve demonstrated that part.
T: Yes, absolutely. I mean, that super-premium segment there, as they like to describe it here in the U.S. It really just is thriving. I mean, it’s also the trend across all spirits. People are willing to spend more to drink better and they have been for a couple of years now and they continue to be, so great foresight there.
J: But speaking of which, I will never forget having arguments with heads of marketing of a few global brands who kept coming up with larger and larger cocktail glasses and kept saying this is the future. This is how people, how we can get people to have more, how we can move more product. And then Sasha Petrosky opened Milk & Honey at 134 Eldridge Street in New York, year 2000. And he was suddenly charging a few bucks more for a smaller drink. And people were having to book a month in advance to get a seat in a bar to have a drink. And it was such a wonderful moment to see the ripple effect through the industry as we moved to smaller serves once again.
T: Yeah and the people deeply embedded within drinks culture, having a better understanding of what’s good for drinks culture, rather than maybe in a boardroom, a marketing meeting. I don’t want to say that all folks who are involved in the business don’t know their stuff, but these were not decisions that were based on an Excel spreadsheet.
J: And then Sasha came to London and opened a Milk & Honey London working with Jonathan Downey, who was also running a series of bars called The Match Bars, where Dick Bradsell worked. So there was a single degree of separation between Sasha and Dick Bradsell at that time.
T: And to steer this gin conversation back to the Bramble specifically, of course this would’ve been the style. London Dry would’ve been the style that was available to Dick at the time. I can’t imagine there was anything too experimental on the market there. But modern-day folks do have these crazy botanicals and botanical-focused gins like fruity, floral, very far away from juniper. They might expect that gin works better in this cocktail because the other components are fruit and citrus. Why would you argue, just playing devil’s advocate here, can you explain why London Dry remains the best option when making this cocktail?
J: I think you get much more depth and dimension of a classic London Dry in the Bramble than you would a very fruit-driven gin. It would also detract from the beautiful balance where he’s not adding loads of different fruit. He’s adding just the crème de mûre and so he’s isolating that crème de mûre flavor. He’s framing it and highlighting it and letting it shine on stage. And I don’t think the stage needs to be crowded. I think it needs to be a solo performance on the fruit with the crème de mûre here.
T: And then having that interesting and wonderful contrast as well between all the different characteristics that gin brings to the party. This is a shaken cocktail, correct?
J: It is.
T: I have a question for you. I’ve come across people saying you shouldn’t drink gin because it bruises gin.
J: Oh, you shouldn’t shake gin because it bruises it.
T: Can you put that myth to bed or is this true?
J: No, absolutely untrue.
T: Right, OK.
J: Let’s talk about what bruising actually is. Bruising is a loss of viscosity, a move from solid to thin liquid. That’s what bruising is. Somebody punches you in the arm, you get a bruise. That’s actually the cell structure of your flesh being broken down, ruptured. So with gin, let’s look at what happens when you shake it. It gets air bubbles in it. They dissipate. It heightens the flavor a bit through that aeration. And it gets cold. It gets diluted. But bruised? No. But the one drink that does is a Bloody Mary. And that’s because tomato juice is a plastic colloid. It’s a thixotropic liquid. And so when you leave tomato juice sitting, it slowly becomes more and more dense. And with agitation, it becomes thin. Take ketchup for example, you pick a bottle of ketchup from the shelf, open it, turn it over, nothing comes out. You could put the neck in a C-clamp, leave it there, nothing’s coming out. It’s stuck. It’s turned to solid. Now agitate it, whack it a few times with the heel of your hand. And suddenly you’ve got ketchup on your plate, on your hand, on your trouser leg, on the floor. That’s because you’ve just turned it to a thin liquid. So people should not shake or even throw a Bloody Mary. A Bloody Mary was always meant to be rolled gently between two tins. I’ve gone one step further when I make them at home and mixed all the other ingredients and then gently layer in the tomato juice. And I’ve served this to Peter Dorelli, former head bartender at The Savoy in London, to Ago Parone, currently No. 1 in the world with the Connaught Bar, Erik Lorincz, and a few others.
T: Kwānt, I believe.
J: Yes, that’s it. And it’s reopened, which is just wonderful news. And I’ve asked them to describe what they’re tasting and they’ve described beautiful density to it. Gorgeous flavor, balance etc. Not one of them noticed I’d served it at room temperature. So no ice involved, no dilution and you get a much better Bloody Mary that way.
T: Wow. Gin naturally or are you still…
J: Oh, I prefer gin. It goes far beyond just a flavor difference. I find that vodka in a Bloody Mary gives you a very sharp, peppery heat and the gin goes soft and herbaceous. It’s far more gentle and subtle in the drink. I really like it that way. Of course, the gin Bloody Mary, the Red Snapper.
T: The Red Snapper.
J: Taking its name from the brand of premix that Fernand Pete Petiot used, which was Red Snapper Brand Premix, a spicy blend of tomato and clam, which was made all the way around the United States from the 1890s up through the 1930s. And I’ve got, as far as I know, I’ve got the only bottle still with a label.
T: Oh, wow.
J: On it.
T: Of course, these days you’ll much sooner encounter that concoction, that mixture known here as Clamato. And I see what they did there, the fine marketing folks, they took half of one word and half of another, and they put them together. Perhaps you’re more likely to come across it in Canada there. They do enjoy their Caesars.
J: To the point where I believe they serve something like 350 million of them per year, accounting for consumption of 10 million liters of vodka.
T: Phenomenal. I was actually just in Calgary recently, and there was a Caesar festival going on, which I was sadly not able to take part in, but maybe next year, I know it’s an annual event they do. Slight little gin side step there, but that is incredible. And I do want to just round off that section by saying, personally, I’m glad we landed on the Bloody Mary there because I believe the first time that we met a couple of years ago was a collaboration between a friend’s food truck of mine and Sipsmith gin doing Bloody Marys at various festivals together on the London festival scene. That was fun. That was the first time we met. So that was nice to come full circle there.
J: Oh, yeah.
T: So crème de mûre being the next ingredient I want to explore for this cocktail in just a little bit more detail. You mentioned at the time Dick would’ve had one brand available to him, or maybe it was a brand that came to him. Has that market increased a lot or does it remain relatively few? Are you able to kind of highlight what you’re looking for from that ingredient?
J: There are a few more crème de mûres on the market today and certainly a few much better quality crème de mûres on the market, which is wonderful. Though, at home, we still also opt to make our own.
J: And one of the recipes that my wife found is a century or two old. You cook down the fruit on a Saint-Émilion wine. And then when you’ve cooked this down and sweetened it, you fix it with a brandy to stabilize it, and we’ve done a fair bit of crème de mûre and crème de cassis this way.
J: I believe it works nicely.
T: Yeah. But I mean, and come on, that makes so much sense when you’re talking about it, because the wines of Bordeaux. I mean, some of the wonderful characters they have, bramble fruits, dark fruits, earth in a good way, just things that go so well with the berries. So yeah, that makes a lot of sense that you’re talking about there. I would encourage people to experiment with that at home, but if people are buying, when it comes to ABV, and also sweetness of this ingredient, what are you looking for as the ideal when you’re using it in this cocktail or roughly?
J: You really want it to do exactly what it did to Dick, which is you want it to take you to childhood summer memories of that flavor. And you should be able to find that in a good crème de mûre.
T: Yeah and so those… I think when I’m tasting and analyzing different drinks, I think it’s that idea of this catchall word that we use, which is like, complexity. That it’s not one dimensional, that it goes in different areas and just makes you start thinking of different things.
J: I mean, you really want the fruit to come through. That’s the whole point of this drink.
T: And ABV, is this like a 20-ish percent liqueur or maybe a little bit lower? Or how are we looking at it?
J: Yeah, we’re 20, 25.
T: 20, 25. Right. Any things that you would like to say with regard to the ingredients, lemon juice, and simple syrup or sweetening agent as they pertain to this drink?
J: No, not particularly. I don’t think that we need a deep dive. Dick specified Spanish lemon, which I found interesting. I think that was just the lemons that he had available to him when he was making it. I doubt he would’ve turned his nose up at an Amalfi lemon or I would’ve been curious to see what he’d do with a Meyer lemon.
J: A particular favorite of mine, such a gorgeous flavor from Meyer lemons.
How to Make Dick Bradsell’s Bramble
T: Wonderful, wonderful ingredient there, but you’re right, it probably speaks more to the era and the origins of this. That was there for him. You mentioned it briefly, but if we can run through again now, the preparation of this drink, if you were going to be making it yourself in terms of the, maybe like the bar-quality version. How are you approaching this? Can you talk us through it step by step with the ratios there or the quantities of each ingredient.
J: So Dick’s structure was 50 mils of gin, 25 mils of lemon, two bar spoons of sugar syrup or 10 mils, and then into a shaker with ice. Give it a shake. Pour it over a whiskey glass or Old Fashioned glass, Double Old Fashioned glass filled with crushed ice. Pour that in, then top that crushed ice up a bit more to give it a nice round head. Then pour 20 mils of crème de mûre over the top of that crushed ice, sticking more to the edges than the center, because then you’re seeing it through the sides of the glass, as it trickles down through the ice and laces it with these beautiful stripes of color. And though he doesn’t include it in any of his recipes, I distinctly remember the first one that he made for me garnished with two beautiful blackberries on top, and then dusted with a little bit of powdered sugar that he had in a tea strainer sitting on a plate. So he picked it up and just taped the tea strainer a couple of times. Perfect dusting of powdered sugar over there. And that is Dick Bradsell’s Bramble.
T: Wonderful. One final question on that little tea strainer there is the powdered sugar. We’re drinking this from a straw, is that purely aesthetics there or is that going to dissolve with some of the ice and kind of maintain, I don’t know…
J: In terms of the flavor of the drink, purely aesthetic. Doesn’t really affect the flavor of the drink in terms of the flavor of the garnish when you pick up one of the blackberries, it’s now been sweetened a bit.
T: Very nice because the blackberry is a tart fruit, there’s no… or a tart berry. There’s no denying that. That makes a lot of sense. OK. Well, that’s been wonderful. Just wondering any final thoughts you have on this cocktail or the conversation so far before we move into our weekly recurring questions to finish the show?
J: I would say that this is a drink that really does need the crushed ice simply because you get that effect of that lovely trickle of crème de mûre, doesn’t work at all if the drink is sitting on the rocks. And as Dick specified in his description of it, it’s a drink that needs to be on ice rather than served up.
T: Yeah, I can definitely see that with those different components there. Well, that’s been wonderful. Jared, let’s finish the show here with our weekly questions. How are you feeling about moving into those?
J: Why not?
Getting to Know Jared Brown
T: Why not? Fabulous. Question No. 1: What style or category of spirit typically enjoys the most real estate on your back bar?
J: Oh, there’s no question, but what is gin? There is a lot of gin on the back bar. And we’ve just come out of this interminable pandemic and so I was at home, working from home and not going out to bars, so the wife and I would have a single drink daily with our supper and almost invariably it would be a Gibson cocktail. And we became very obsessed with the Gibson.
T: So can you tell us your Gibson spec here? And I mean, I’m sure you’re making your own onions for this, but I might be wrong there.
J: Beyond that, we’re growing shallots for this.
T: Of course.
J: And harvesting them a bit on the small side and then using a Japanese pickling recipe, not just because it’s got one of the coolest names, which is rakkyo.
J: And so these rakkyo, pickled shallots, and then slicing the shallot to about six to eight millimeters and putting that on a toothpick so that you’ve got this perfect cylinder, this disc of onion garnish. And when I’m mixing them, what I’ll do is I’ll prep the garnish first, fill glasses with ice and water to chill down the cocktail glasses. And then I will stick the garnish in with the ice and the water so that the garnish is… Even though it came out of the fridge, I’m going to get it a little bit colder while I’m chilling the glasses, but also it gives it a light rinse.
T: Yeah, it takes away some of that pungency because it’s strong.
J: Yep. You want it to slip into the drink, not for it to take over the drink. And then either stirring or throwing a… Usually about a three-to-one or four-to-one with the London Dry Gin, dry vermouth, and then spill out the glasses of the ice and water. Put the garnish back in and fill them up.
T: Phenomenal. Wonderful cocktail. One that we have covered here, of course, as well. If you haven’t listened to that episode, the Gibson, Meaghan Dorman. Check that out on our feed. Great drink. Question No. 2 here for you: Which ingredient or tool do you think is the most undervalued in a bartender’s arsenal?
J: Oh, I’ll give you both. And the least valued ingredient still to this day, vermouth. It seems to get so little respect and there are some great multinational vermouth’s out there that sell for… essentially what you’ve got there is a $20 bottle of wine selling for $10, sort of the opposite of going out and buying a Château Margaux at the moment, where it’s a great wine but you’re paying a heck of a premium to keep somebody in Beijing from buying that bottle.
T: Yep, there’s stiff competition these days for those wines.
J: Yep. Truly. And so vermouth. I dearly love it. I use a lot of it at home. Undervalued. Underrated, undervalued. For tools is the stirring end of the bar spoon. For some reason, this generation of bartenders decide they need to stir with the measuring end and they practice and practice and practice. Some of them are phenomenal at it. It’s just beautiful to watch, but it’s really like handing somebody a Porsche Turbo Carrera, and they take it out on the motorway in reverse. Why? Because I can. Baby, you watch this. I am so good at driving this thing backwards. Oh, you know what? Turn that spoon over and use the damn stirring end.
T: So much easier for everyone involved.
T: Love it. Love those recommendations right there. Question No. 3: What’s the most important piece of advice you’ve received while working in the industry?
J: Oh wow. Most important piece of advice. Trying to narrow it down because I’ve received so many great bits of advice. One that didn’t come to me as a bit of advice was Sasha Petrosky saying to his bartenders, “I encourage you to have a drink while you’re working. If I ever find you drunk, I will fire you on the spot.” And it was this message of moderate consumption. And I take that with me daily and I keep it in mind that I’m a gin distiller. I’m a drinks writer. I’m allowed to have a drink, not allowed to be drunk, and so I’ve always kept that one in mind. Another one, when I had my first bartending job, somewhere in the East 90s here, Manhattan, and an old sales guy would come in every afternoon, sit at the bar for as long as I would make him drinks. He would just keep teaching me. And I don’t know who thought was getting the better part of that deal, but I’ll never forget him saying to me, good spirits warm, bad spirits burn.
T: You know, this is one of the things that I particularly enjoy about U.S. drinks culture, bars here versus the U.K. I’m not saying that the bar seating doesn’t exist in England, but very often, and I think probably grown out of pubs and having that area standing in. When it’s busy, you get your drink, you order it, you pick it up and you leave. I do love that about the States. When you move here, you don’t need to know anyone. You sit up at a bar, start a conversation, maybe with the person next to you or maybe the bartender and very soon you’re not alone even if you did walk in there alone. And I think that’s one of the things that I do love about here. I should say it does exist in England and whatnot, but not to the same extent, right?
J: Truly. Yep.
T: Yeah, it’s wonderful.
J: Another bit of advice that I was given long ago is never forget that we’re having fun and never forget we’re in the drinks industry. This is an industry of good times and be careful of taking things too seriously.
T: I think both your pieces of advice there, the first and the second there, it’s like find that middle ground. Moderation. Enjoy it. Mindful.
J: That’s it.
T: Be in the moment when you’re drinking these things. That’s great. Three for one there, penultimate question: If you could only visit one last bar in your life, it can be past or present, occasionally fictional. Which one would it be?
J: Oh, it would be a Friday afternoon at the bar in the Sipsmith Distillery. Absolutely. When all of the young members of the team have come out of the office, everyone jumps behind the bar, they’ve got new ideas, new drinks they’ve just been thinking about all week and start experimenting and comparing and sharing around the bar. Somebody else pulls out their phone, hits their playlist, the music’s on. And I have the great fortune to work with some really wonderful people, some very happy people. They’re just a joy to be around any time that I get to spend with them. I feel it’s such a privilege, and right then, most of all. So I would say that little bar in the Sipsmith Distillery.
T: That sounds like a wonderful Friday afternoon right there.
T: Getting up for the weekend. The transition from the week to the weekend right there.
J: And occasionally, I’ll have to reach behind the shelf and back on that back bar, just behind it, there is a Champagne sword there and I would say every single person in the office has sabered at least a few bottles.
T: Good skill to have.
J: Absolutely. When it’s time for French 75s.
T: Final question for you here today, Jared. If you knew that the next cocktail you drank was going to be your last, what would you order or make?
J: A double.
T: A double.
J: Yeah, definitely. It would probably be a twist on the Martini. And I came up with a drink a while back. One of those strange afternoons where the owner of the Royal Tokaji Essencia walks into the distillery.
T: Hugh Johnson? No.
J: I don’t recall. But he walked in with this bottle in a beautiful box, opened it up, the bottle’s there next to a crystal spoon, which was used to give a Pope on their deathbed, this transition between Earth and heaven, this wine that takes years to ferment to 4 percent. And it is honeyed, and nectarine and this beautiful flavor and he opened it up and he gave me a taste. And he said, do you think you could make a cocktail with this? How is this happening to me? What is going on here? This is phenomenal. This is like $500 for a half-bottle and he wants me to mix with it. Yes. And I took this 1700s wine glass, small wine glass and I dropped two cubes from the Hoshizaki machine into this glass. I poured in, it was one part of the Royal Tokaji Essencia to two parts of our VJOP, very junipery overproof, gin. And then I squeezed an orange twist about 18 inches above that and discarded it. And I named that drink, The Last Wish.
T: So perfect for this question and what an incredible drink it sounds like too. I have had the fortune also once to taste the Royal Tokaji Essencia at their property there. And it’s magical. I mean, it really is. It’s a magical ingredient and I love the openness of them there, though, speaks to your advice. Don’t take things too seriously. Can you use this in a cocktail? Incredible. That’s what I like to see and hear, and hopefully taste.
J: Oh, the reason that I put two ice cubes in the glass and built this in the glass is because I could not imagine leaving a single drop of the Tokaji in a mixing glass or in a tin. I wanted every drop in the glass.
T: And I imagine that was just a wonderful marriage of those two ingredients.
J: Oh, it was. We actually put it on a cocktail list. We were doing a 100 Martini pop-up menu. I originally wasn’t going to do this. My business partner, Sam, had come up with this idea and he said, what would you think of that? And I felt it had really been killed, buried in the late ‘90s, early 2000s when anything in a V-glass was a Martini.
J: And he asked me again, and so I gave it some thought and I said, well, I tell you what, I’ll write the menu, but 90 of those drinks will be pre-Second World War and then 10 that are a bit more modern, like Julia Child’s Reverse Martini, the Last Wish. And those are some very special ones, but that went on for, I think that drink was about a hundred bucks.
T: Yeah, I was going to say.
J: And we sold a bunch of them.
T: Amazing. That’s my kind of menu, by the way. 100 Martinis. Absolutely.
J: That was fun.
T: Jared, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been wonderful having you in the studio and discussing the Bramble, Dick Bradsell, all things gin and just some weird historical tangents there. Thank you for your time today.
J: Oh, it was such a pleasure to be here with you and thanks so much.
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Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.