Mark Ridgwell on a flavoursome future

Flavour — MARK

Chefs, renowned for their passion for ingredients, will go to exceptional lengths to secure and sustain quality in the foods they buy. They work closely with their suppliers because good cooking is all about the product and working with the stewards of the land.

Their Slow Food Movement seeks to draw the attention of those who serve and those who consume to this partnership and to have our enjoyment of food enhanced by greater knowledge and appreciation for the origins and individuality of foods.

Why not a Taste the Spirit Movement to encourage more recognition for spirits, like wines, as products of nature and more, as products of history and legend, with tastes, flavours and colours to reflect an immense diversity of local custom and ingredients capable of generating drinks for every occasion?

I’m prompted to ask the question by Café Pacifico’s recent closure, surely a bar to represent a benchmark for expressing a team’s passion for a spirit and a bar that demonstrated everyone’s right to enjoy spirits beyond brand statements but as memorable drinking experiences particularly those who arrive at a bar full of prejudice or just ill-informed.

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Flavour — Pacifico

Tomas Estes and Phil Bayly both recognised their opportunities to be informed entertainers, and their roles as temporary guardians of spirits forged over centuries, often by generations of families committed to creating the very best from what local nature provides, created local recognition for tequila as a world class spirit from what was a pit of prejudice.

The Café Pacifico team showed the way and who’s to follow? Who’s going to show a passion for other spirits and take their bar beyond a venue built on values established by brands, to a destination that inspires long term rewards derived from a capacity to make informed choices? Who’s going to grow the enjoyment of spirits through a knowledge of where each comes from, how each is made and tastes the way it does and why each is selected for the drinks on the cocktail list? Who’s going to inspire a passion for what’s in the bottles as opposed to what’s on the label or in the promotional pack?

Surely now is the time to marry flair and mixology skills with what must be key to any truly rewarding drinking experience: a knowledge of what’s in the bottles, acquired from those thought to be the experts just as we expect when we buy our wines. Surely now is the time for our spirit menus to celebrate those bottles on the back bar rather than list them as if in a stock-takers’ notepad. Surely now is the time to replace descriptions like ‘Standard’, ‘Premium’, ‘Super-premium’ and worse with descriptions that better reflect a bartender’s proper status as taste mentor and spirits as true luxuries full of heritage, romance and individuality.

Whiskies are produced all over the world and yet retain their unique and distinct regional character.  Rums are produced in almost every cane-growing country and vary enormously, reflecting local custom even in the islands of the Caribbean. To date western vodkas have aimed for purity and little else but  traditional vodkas from the east and now many from the west reflect their ingredients and each distiller’s choice of process. Gins have never offered more choice, with old recipes revived and new botanical flavourings explored and yet still, I hear people say, “I don’t like gin.” That is surely evidence enough of just how little our customers have learnt about the gins that feature on today’s back bars. And mezcal and tequila, spirits, unique to their Mexican origins and capable of underpinning drinks to conquer every prejudice, remain just an occasional sale beyond Mexican bars like Café Pacifico, because in those regular bars prejudice survives.

I set up Taste and Flavour in 1998 to inspire those who work with spirits, to grow a passion for spirits born out of knowledge, a desire to grow that knowledge, express it with confidence  and, in the absence of much written about spirits in the consumer press, to take every opportunity to educate and entertain those keen to know more.

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