Anup Devani is a clinical geneticist and a co-founder and bartender at Re\Volver Cocktail Bar. He is a self-described cocktail enthusiast, with a special interest in the craft alcohol scene. He lives in Nairobi with his wife and a surprisingly high-maintenance set of dogs.
Let me preface this column by stipulating categorically that excess consumption of alcohol is not good for you. However, once one settles into adulthood, in as much as that is really possible, the idea of quality over volume does begin to take precedence. When you’re there, what I have to say will resonate a little deeper.
Alcohol is humankind’s drug of choice and has been for millennia. The lowered inhibitions and dopamine rushes have helped, hindered, destroyed and resurrected many a person.
I find myself constantly amazed at the sheer variety of alcohols available, and the often disparate perceptions the same drink can have in different regions. Some of them are, of course, the result of truly excellent marketing: champagne is no better (or worse) than some other sparkling wines (cavas and proseccos particularly come to mind), and yet it is the ringing endorsement of the significance of a celebration that a bottle is present. Hollywood tells us that emotional distress, battling our inner demons, and all manner of other upheaval or torment requires a dark room and the glint of light through a crystal glass and a flash of amber whisky (or whiskey – look up the difference).
Beer is a classic male bonding drink but get into the realms of super-strength lagers and the association moves to vagrancy and alcoholism. Talk about Jägermeister to an average Kenyan party animal, and Jägerbombs are the jumpstarting drink to set you on your way to wherever it is you’d like to be on the drunk scale. Speak to a German, though, and the origins of the name become clear – it was a tonic to keep hunters awake while stalking nocturnal animals in the deep, dark forests.
In future columns, I will start concentrating on individual varieties of alcohol, but for now, I’d like to scratch the surface of that most magnificent set of libations, the cocktail. Where other ready-to-imbibe beverages are the result of long, complex and arduous processes, the joy I personally derive from cocktails lies in the immediacy. Something sweet, sour, bitter, long, short or fruity. The adjectives are as endless as the ingredients that comprise them. For every great bartender, you’ll find a distinct palette of components to their bar.
The classics are great, they’re classic for a reason after all – you’ll often find me with a Martini in hand. But there is, to me at least, truly unbridled joy in playing with all the new things that others have painstakingly and lovingly crafted, and finding new and unusual playmates to swirl in your glass. While we’re on the subject, if you’re ever making yourself a cocktail at home, please be assured that a good glass can really make the difference between a good drink and a great one (I’ll get into more details some other time). As a scientist, I’m a big fan of precision – replicability of results is best achieved by keeping your measurements, methods and output as accurate as you can.
Then there’s the equipment you use. More than most, I like to ensure that my bar tools are fit for purpose: when making a Sazerac, I’d much rather use a spray bottle for the Absinthe than do a standard swirl; when muddling mint for a Mojito, use a flat-bottomed muddler – you want to gently press the flavour out, not torment the leaves into submission. Having the right utensils makes cocktail making a pleasure, part of the whole experience that makes that first sip so satisfying. When trying to come up with new cocktails, the trick is to think it through, play with the balance, and take joy in the iterative failures. When you succeed, it’ll have been worth the wait.
Now the time has come to leave you, but to dull the pain, I offer you the recipe to one of my current favourites. Salud!
Pomelo Paloma Cocktail Recipe
As found at Re\Volver Cocktail Bar
¼ red grapefruit (peel removed)
1 measure* Tequila Reposado
½ measure Grapefruit-Infused Vodka
½ measure Crème de Pamplemousse
4 drops of Pink Pepper Tincture**
Sparkling mixer to top (my favourite is Fentiman’s Valencian Orange Tonic)
In a stirring tin, crush the grapefruit to release the juice and pulp.
Add tequila, vodka and crème de Pamplemousse and stir thoroughly.
In a rocks glass, add 4-6 cubes of ice (depending on size) and drop the pink pepper tincture over it.
Strain and pour your mixture over the ice, taking care to get all the liquid out. Top up with your mixer.
To garnish, remove the pith from a section of grapefruit peel (around 2” works best) and gently twist over the surface of the drink to extract the flavours. Drop the twisted peel into the glass, and enjoy!
1 measure is equivalent to 25 ml or 1 fl oz
** this ingredient is not essential, but it does add a lovely spiciness that compliments the tequila and grapefruit very well. To make, add 30 grams of pink peppercorns (dried) to 50 ml of neutral spirit (vodka works fine) and leave in a cool, reasonably dark place for a week. Shake regularly. The tincture is ready when it is noticeably pink in colour. Strain and place in a dark glass capped bottle for later use.