Food & Drink Wednesday, July 25th

Tips from Hereford’s Cocktail King – and why mixology is harder than cooking

Food & Drink Wednesday, July 25th

Tips from Hereford’s Cocktail King – and why mixology is harder than cooking

Last summer Connor Hart posted up a picture of his signature Tiramisu cocktail on Facebook. It's below, the one with the glass dusted with cocoa and a froth so light it looks like it could have been skimmed off a cloud. The image was a soulful bassline away from one of those M&S adverts. Unequivocally indulgent, artfully lit, it was the liquid equivalent of #FoodPorn - and that and the pics that followed went a long way to launching Deja Vu, a pop-up cocktail club that takes over the bars of restaurants - and sometimes the bars of bars - across town for one-night residencies.

The emphasis, both when it comes to Connor and his cocktails, is placing pride in the finer things. He hand-picks, or hand-makes, everything but the bubbles. He refers to his collective menu as ‘my creations’ and views drinking cockails from jugs with the same distain as a putting ketchup on a steak. He wants you to walk away from the bar holding what just might be the best drink you've had in your life. 

In just twelve months those creations have built up both enviable reputation and loyal fanbase. It’s not hard to tell why. Just look at them. The pics alone would make Nun thirsty.

Good news. Conor's back behind the bar at this Friday for his first residency at The Den's new spot on Bridge Street. So we caught up with him to get some tips on how drink like a grown-up.

Follow him in Insta here, to make sure you don't miss out on any Deja Vu pop ups.

 

Solero

Pre-dinner cocktails, post-dinner digestifs or just all the cocktails, all the time?

People usually start with them. But when I’m putting together a menu for pop-ups, I try and do multiple styles of drink.

I make cocktails tailored for having throughout the meal. For pre-dinner cocktails, I like to have a sour, anything with an egg white in it. And then I’ll probably do two or three that you could have through a meal that aren’t to heavy – light and refreshing, and you won’t need to order a bottle of wine.

And there’ll be a desert one (like the tiramisu – which is massively popular and visually stunning, but maybe not what you’re going to drink before you have a steak).

 

Have we reached ‘peak Gin’ yet?

Gin’s massive at the moment isn’t it? That and prosecco. But gin took off hugely and there’s places all over Hereford now.

But Gins are good.

Mescal’s taken off quite a lot. I don’t know if it’ll take off in Hereford.

Tequila is not my speciality. If I go out and order a cocktail it’s probably not going to have tequila in it, so tequila cocktails are not my signature. I’d like to play about with more – but mescal is quite intriguing. It’s smoky and quite aromatic.

Trying to get someone to try anything new is always fun. People read my menu and they see ‘egg white’ on the cocktail and they’re intrigued. They’re like ‘oh my God, you’re putting egg white in a cocktail? etc etc etc’.

But while Gin’s popular – I try to do twists on classics. One of my most popular is my raspberry ripple – I make a white chocolate foam, and I use Chase’s oak-aged sloe gin.

 

How long does is take for you to whip up a Tiramisu?

Cocktails are a luxury. They are time-consuming to make, especially my ones (they take two or three minutes to make, but most of my ingredients, I make them as well. My syrups, my purees, and everything that goes in to it is a high-end product.  We don’t use any cheap spirits, I use a lot of Chase products. They look after me well.

I use local products for my juices, so I use Colcombe House (their orchards are out behind the Bunch of Carrots) for my apple juice. I do a cider reduction where I use their cider – ‘Rouge’ –It compliments my cocktails so well. And I use British Cassis as well.

As a county that we’ve got all these local companies that I’m happy to use. It’s so good.

Outside of the county what are some of the more fun trends in the cocktail world?

Lots of things are coming out at the moment. Because Hereford’s so small, and the cocktail scene’s so small, it’s different. But edible garnishes. This lad from Hong Kong did it first, but it’s a printable garnish so you can literally print out, on rice paper, whatever you want and then place it on top of something like an egg-white cocktail with a foamy top. That’s a massive trend right now and something I’m looking in to adding.

‘Shrubs’ are taking off massively. A shrub would be a vinegar-based product, so you’d get a really high-quality vinegar (actually Colcombe House are coming out with their own one really soon, but I’ve got my hands on Chase’s new one), it’s go no alcohol in it itself, but you can use it by putting a load of condiments with it – herbs, spices, fruit peels and sugar – and leave it to infuse for a good week or two with a good shake or two. What you’re left with is this really thick, sharp syrup which you can add to a cocktail. They’ve taken off.

Eventually I would like to have my own cocktail bar, and to have my own laboratory almost where I can really get in to that. Using all local produce to make my own stuff, my own bitters, syrups, cordials, all that kind of stuff.

Your own bar?

There’s a few good places in Hereford, but I think there could be more. I don’t think there’s anywhere that really exclusive – dates nights, anniversaries – where you want to go and have some decent food, and some amazing cocktails. I want to be that place.

I’d hang want to do food, but hang it on the drinks. My cocktails, I put a lot of love, and a lot of time in to them. And they are quite a luxury, they’re quite sophisticated. I mean, to me the word ‘jug’ is a swear word. It’s just no.

Drinks are meant to be enjoyed. I think the problem nowadays is people go out to get drunk, whereas I go out to socialise, have a few drinks and some nice food – and I think that’s my demographic. It’s not people who are going out to get smashed.

Where do you go for cocktails?

At the moment, if I was to go for a cocktail in town, I’d probably say the Left Bank (because I’ve done the menu) and because it’s really good and it’s got a new look.

Because of the location, it’s such summer place.

DisarronoSour

How did you get started?

I started off living in Spain, from when I was eight. My first job was working as a chef. I’ve always enjoyed cooking, and being creative with food and drink. And then when I moved back to England, that’s when it started. I worked in a bar in Stratford in a hotel and that’s where it kicked off properly, and went on the be the lead barman at the Beefy Boys for 18 months.

I actually think mixology is harder than being a chef – or more creative. When you think about it, there are sort of a finite number of ingredients you use as a chef, but when you’re making cocktails the range of what you can use and combine from all the obscure spirits, herbs, herb-infused spirits, ingredients. It’s almost endless, the possibilities.

Where I lived in Spain it was a beautiful place, but it wasn’t a city. People were all about their strawberry daquiris and Sangria – actually  my sister has the best recipe for Sangria and I might put it on one of the menus this summer.

But I love Spain, it’s got some great stuff. The wines especially – I love a good Rioja. I’m a seafood person as well. That’s probably the big thing I miss. That and the sunshine.

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To book a table at The Den for Friday, call 01432 268666 - or head over to their website here for more info.

Pics throughout the piece from Deja Vu.

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