I’ve always thought of cocktails as funny creatures. I usually drink wine or beer, as I tend to like to know exactly what I’m drinking and its percentage. Whenever I’m allowed near an abundance of cocktails I tend to get ‘merry’ a bit too quickly as they go down all too easily. From awful teenage mixes of every available spirit topped up with juice (or even squash…), to swanky bars serving up cutting edge concoctions, we’ve all had our share of terror and (thankfully) brilliance fill our glasses.
Recently, down in Brighton Bacalls bar at The Rialto Theatre, I found myself with cocktails at the forefront of my mind. It was definitely one of those days. Welcomed into a spacious room with a sleek bar on one side and a scattering of luxurious furniture, we hop onto some comfortable bar stools to see what cocktail master Alec Bruce has on his ever-expanding new menu today. The décor matches the ambience of the bar, with sleek and elegant nods towards the debaucherous 1920s.
Bringing his six years of industry experience to Brighton a few years back, I sit back as the bar becomes the equivalent of a kitchen for a chef. Each libation having its own position and counterpart, we can see we are in the midst of a professional. With simplicity and passion on the cards, we dive in. Alec eases us in with a ‘Kir Tang’ – a twist on a classic. With a comparably low alcohol content, a small measure of Chambord (a raspberry-based liquor) is poured into the bottom of a Champagne flute and topped with a high quality Prosecco and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. The bubbly gives the drink a crisp taste at first with a fruity twang from the citrus component, and gets sweeter the more we drink. I fleetingly smile as the graduation of flavours reminds me of the effect alcohol is about to have on me.
On to a ‘Meantime Manhattan’, we are intrigued as to what will fill our glasses. This turns out to be a perfect pre-theatre drink that one can take their time over. With a generous amount of Buffalo Trace bourbon, the Manhattan is beefed up with varying measures of Meantime Chocolate Porter and Martini Rosso, and just a dash of fresh orange juice. I’m skeptical as to how this combination will turn out (though in vain as the flavours sit together very nicely). Presented in a Martini glass, Alec drops in a small chunk of 70% cocoa dark chocolate and a sour cherry to finish it off. The taste has many layers as the ingredients list dictates, taking us from chocolate to bourbon, beer to cherries. Though it is made without cream, there’s definitely a rich taste to this creation, leading a colleague of mine to announce that the Meantime Manhattan is ‘enticing and challenging’.
Next up in our tour de beverages is a festive little number. With a big time Hollywood namesake, the ‘Ginger Rogers’ has a flavour profile as impressive as the talents of the real deal. Naturally, the drink is started with crystallised ginger; a sour cherry is added and crushed up then covered with crushed ice. This mixture is then doused in Absolut vodka, cherry brandy and a splash of soda water with fresh orange as the garnish. The taste of the vodka lingers at the back of the palate whilst the ginger punctuates throughout. With the crushed cherry, the flavours compliment each other really well to create a warming and enjoyable drink – certainly not ‘hard to handle’.
Named after Lauren Bacall, just like the bar itself, ‘The Leading Lady’ is our next treat. The most alcohol content of the bunch, this cocktail is comprised of Disaronno, Bombay Sapphire and pineapple nectar. Double strained into a Martini glass, the drink is topped with fresh pineapple juice and garnished with the fruit’s leaves presented on a stick, which looks much nicer than I’ve described it. This one has a very tropical aroma and the pineapple taste is diluted to an extent with a hint of almond from the Disaronno.
Close to the centre of town, Brighton Bacalls bar, though smaller than many, stands toe to toe with the cocktail giants of the more well known establishments. And there’s the theatre to make the most of so next time I’m lacking some thespian magic in my life, I’ll be heading to the Rialto. The building that Bacalls and Rialto share has been dubbed as something of a ‘has-been’, though it’s clear this pairing is very much a ‘will be’.
Brighton Bacalls is at The Rialto Theatre, 11 Dyke Road, Brighton, BN1 3FE