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Column: Bar Fly with Tim Blake

In the first instalment of his new column for Velvet, Tim Blake - bona fide drinks buff and the brains behind Bury St Edmunds speakeasy The Stillery - gets into the Valentine’s spirit, courtesy of the highball cocktail

When two become one. It’s not just a Spice Girls’ pop classic, but also the best way to describe the perfect pairing that is a highball cocktail.

February is the month of love, but rather than raking over old ground of sharers, innuendo or, worse still, “aphrodisiac” cocktails, I thought I’d explore how taking two great flavours and pairing them properly can give you one spectacular cocktail.

Firstly, we have to understand what a cocktail is. The legal definition of a cocktail is a “drink which contains three or more different liquids (not counting water)”. But this is just a means to keep our weights and measures in check.

Bury St Edmunds, Tim Blake owner of The Stillery wins Best Spirits Bar award Picture Mark Westley. (26326112)
Bury St Edmunds, Tim Blake owner of The Stillery wins Best Spirits Bar award Picture Mark Westley. (26326112)

The dictionary definition of a cocktail is “an alcoholic drink consisting of a spirit or spirits mixed with other ingredients, such as fruit juice or cream” - hmm, a bit boring.

For me, a cocktail is the coupling of two or more flavours to create a new and exciting flavour. Does it have to be alcoholic? Not so much these days, but that’s for another column.

The most famous and simple cocktail we can all make is the G&T. “That’s not a cocktail!” I hear you cry. But, for me, it is.

The definition of the “highball” cocktail is a spirit mixed with a larger amount of carbonated soda – a recipe that has been written about since the late 1800s and sounds exactly like a G&T to me!

I imagine that we’re all pretty confident with mixing the perfect G&T, especially with the explosion in its popularity over the past few years. But what about extending these skills to partnering other spirits and mixers?

Here are two drinks you may want to rustle up at home:

The Stillery's Vermouth & Tonic(26325824)
The Stillery's Vermouth & Tonic(26325824)

Vermouth and tonic

Tonic is not just gin’s perfect partner. It also works with a variety of spirits, one of the most interesting being vermouth – a wine-steeped spirit with botanicals.

Vermouth has shaken off its old-fashioned image as “granny’s favourite” and embraced the modern palate, showcasing an array of flavours. A word of warning though; no two vermouths are the same, they are all unique.

Supermarkets too have embraced this new world of vermouth and rather than just stocking Martini, you can now find frontier-pushing brands like Belsazar or Cocchi on the shelves, or even Regal Rogue Australian vermouth.

This vermouth uses unique indigenous botanicals and wines, such as the bold Barossa Valley Shiraz with wattleseed, cinnamon clove, native thyme and among others. Here, I have matched 50ml Regal Rogue Bold Red and one bottle of Merchants heart hibiscus tonic. Build in a long glass with loads of ice.

Whisky and soda

One of the most famous and enduring of all the highballs is whisky and soda. In Japan, it remains the most celebrated of all drinks, akin to our G&T. Here you’ll find elaborate rituals with ice, carbonation and technique to find the perfect end result. This is, of course, built on the fact that Japan has become one of the world leaders in producing the oak-aged elixir.

For this drink, I have mixed together the very approachable Toki Grain whisky with a Bottle Green elderflower soda. The honey floral notes of the Toki combine beautifully with the meadow-like sweetness of the elderflower.

To make a light, easy and refreshing drink, a million miles away from the whisky and soda of old, you will need 50ml Toki Whisky, topped with Bottle Green elderflower presse. Build in a long glass with loads of ice.

The Stillery is at 3 Short Brackland, Bury St Edmunds IP33 1EL. Visit stillery.co.uk and follow on social for more.

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