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01.11.11 by  

The Bourbon Renaissance

If you think your sideboard is worthy of staging its own revival, check out Paul Mathew’s The Hide bar in London. In his upstairs laboratory, his weapons of choice include rigged bong-like smokers, tea strainers, straps of leather and wine barrel shavings. Viva la revolución.

The birth of every new movement needs a Renaissance man to lead the charge. Meet Paul Mathew, owner of London’s The Hide. We not sure if its his command of bourbon or his avant-garde cocktail weaponry, but when it comes to mindbending everyday experience, our money’s on him.

Experiment with infusions in order to nail an amazing twist on bourbon cocktails. Photo: The Hide Bar

served raw: how are you experimenting with bourbon in signature cocktails?

Paul Mathew: It’s very un-original, but we’ve been experimenting with smoked bourbon recently. This has involved rigging up an aquarium pump, a 5-litre water container and tea-strainer to make a rather elaborate bong-type affair. Sadly the results, while sounding great, haven’t really been good enough for us yet, so this is still work in progress. We have some oak shavings from the inside of old wine barrels that we’ve been using for the fuel, but I’m thinking we might try an “ultra-oaked, merlot-finish Manhattan” at some point.

We’ve also been playing around with tea a lot. Our American in London uses an Earl Grey-infused Knob Creek, a great American bourbon, with a quintessentially English tea, sweetened with peach:

American in London

This is a very quick tea-infusion, as steeping the mixture for too long allows the alcohol to draw off too many heavy tannins resulting in a very bitter drink. You just want the water-soluble aromatics to come off the tea.

  • 1 1/3 ounces (40 milliliters) Knob Creek bourbon infused with Earl Grey tea*
  • 1/2 ounce (15 milliters) peach liqueur
  • 4/5 ounce (25 milliliters) Antica Formula sweet vermouth
  • 3 drops Peychaud’s bitters
  1. Infuse tea (enough for 1 person) in bourbon for 15 seconds.
  2. Stir over ice with peach liqueur, sweet vermouth and Peychaud’s bitters.
  3. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

are there any rules to follow when using bourbon in cocktails or is it gloves off?

Bourbon has undergone a fantastic renaissance in the last five years, and the distillers are doing some pretty out-there stuff (for example the boom in “white dog” un-aged spirit recently) – no reason why we can’t do the same in cocktails! Traditionally bourbon flavors have worked best with mint, apple, citrus, things like that. Now I think anything goes. The bacon bourbon that PDT in New York is famous for would be a good example. Having said that, I’m not entirely sure bacon bourbon works for me personally!

Your mandatory pit-stop when in London. Photo: The Hide Bar

we know that you’re infusing bourbon with rhubarb (very cool) … what are some other interesting infusions you’re doing with the spirit.

The teas are fun. We’ve been trying out things other than Earl Grey, such as Chinese Pu’er, TieGuanYin and Oolong – each give very different flavours, but some are best pulled out in the vermouth rather than the spirits. It’s not exactly an infusion, but we’re also keen to follow Tony Conigliaro and Jeffrey Morgenthaler who have been barrel-aging Manhattans, and others. The results seem amazing, but they’re not very practical, so we’re experimenting with the wine-barrel shavings to impart some wood character on the cocktail. It’s unlikely to give the softness that the ageing provides, but it might help meld the flavours a little. We’ll see … we’ve also got some cocoa-nib bourbon on the go. Thinking that might work well with the bourbon-maraschino-cherry mix we have left from our maraschino cherries.

We also had a great Blazer on the menu over the winter, which was so popular, we’ve kept it going. It’s a mixture of cherries, raspberries and raisins that’s covered with bourbon, rum and armagnac and left for a week. After that, it’s strained before use. The cocktail is blazed with cinnamon, and served with sweet sherry in a glass on the side: The Christmas Cake Blazer.

some infusions are awesome and some are a disaster … what’s the trick to nailing a great bourbon infusion?

Be willing to give things a try and not be too heart-broken if they just don’t work!

Stock your sideboard with inspirational classic recipes that kickstart experimentation. Photo: The Hide Bar

what are the most amazing, lesser-known bourbons you’re sipping lately?

We need to spend some time in the U.S. to have a chance of tasting the really small-batch stuff. They’re not that unusual, but we’re big fans of Bakers 7, Eagle Rare, the Single Barrel Four Roses and finally George T. Stagg for the special occasions. Oh, and Fighting Cock when drinking a Boiler Maker.

if we were creating a bourbon laboratory where we could get have fun/get crazy experimenting, what should we put in it?

The basics — a few types of bitters, some good sweet vermouth, maple syrup, a patch of fresh mint, a damn good ice machine, some unrefined sugar, fresh cherries, peaches and apples. Then a few more advanced items, like a barrel or two, some cigars, perhaps a piece of leather and some old cocktail books. The books for inspiration, but I’d also love to get the character of old books into a bourbon drink one day. The Librarian’s Old Fashioned — that’s one to work on in the lab!

The Christmas Cake Blazer a la The Hide

  • Cherries
  • Raspberries
  • Raisins
  • Bourbon
  • Rum
  • Armagnac
  • Cinnamon to garnish
  • Sweet sherry
  1. Mix cherries, raspberries and raisins, cover with bourbon, rum and armagnac, seal and leave for a week.
  2. Strain before use. The cocktail is blazed with cinnamon, and served with sweet sherry in a glass on the side.

Use shot glasses as garnish holders when they're not serving your chasers. Photo: The Hide Bar