A lot of the time, when people say they don’t like cocktails, what they actually mean is they don’t like cocktails that are sickly sweet. And the general trend over the past couple of years has definitely been towards drinks with a more grown-up taste profile: bitter, dry, smoky, savoury.
L’Orbe (£49.50 for 20cl, Soho Wine Supply) is a striking new vodka from France flavoured with top-quality sturgeon caviar from the Gironde. The caviar is encapsulated in a special glass vial that runs through the centre of the bottle, gradually infusing the wheat spirit with its distinctive flavours of sea water, oyster shell and buttery fatness. The result is very good: complex, savoury and elegant. At Belgravia’s Japanese-fusion restaurant Sumosan Twiga, head chef Mauro di Leo has created a tasting menu inspired by L’Orbe. Umami-rich dishes include scallop ceviche, caviar and lobster bisque with vodka, and Wagyu tartare with sea urchin and caviar, dressed with a L’Orbe-spiked ponzu.
Another savoury vodka good for sipping neat with food is Chase Oak Smoked Vodka (£38.50 for 70cl, Chase Distillery) – try serving it ice-cold with a few oysters or some salty hard cheese.
Tanqueray recently launched a limited edition gin (£46.25 for 100cl, The Whisky Exchange) flavoured, rather nostalgically, with lovage, a herb you’d find in English gardens everywhere a few generations ago. It’s like a cross between celery and parsley and is particularly good in a Bloody Mary – as are spicy, citrussy Coriander Gin (£33.95 for 70cl, The Whisky Exchange) from north London’s Sacred microdistillery, and Gin Mare (£39.50 for 70cl, Waitrose), which is flavoured with Mediterranean botanicals such as arbequina olives, rosemary and thyme.
More adventurous souls might like to mix a savoury cocktail with Audemas Umami (£37.85 for 50cl, Master of Malt), an unusual French eau de vie flavoured with Sicilian capers and lightly aged in ex-cognac barrels. The result is big, full-bodied and slightly salty – cut it 50/50 with plain vodka at first and see how you go.
In the 19th century, cocktail bitters were often more vegetal or herbal. And Germany’s excellent The Bitter Truth company does great revivalist ones, such as Olive Bitters (£15.05 for 20cl, Master of Malt) for making murk-free Dirty Martinis. But my absolute favourite is the Celery Bitters (£14.63 for 20cl, Master of Malt), which adds a lovely green crunch to martinis, Bloody Marys and even a G&T.