Each month Julie Carolan will be talking to the people behind your favourite Brixton bars, pubs and restaurants to explore the world of cocktail and drinks making in your own backyard. She’ll be quizzing Brixton’s experts to provide you with insider tips, insights and recipes to help you hone your mixology skills at home – and find out more about your local haunts. First up, David Tregenza of recently-opened The Shrub and Shutter.
Tell us about The Shrub and Shutter
My business partner (Chris Edwards) and I have worked in the drinks industry for 25 years between us. The Shrub and Shutter is our first bar – we wanted to create a cocktail bar for the adventurous, a lot of what we do is pretty experimental, and move things away from the speakeasy vibe which has dominated new openings in the city for the last few years. We’re both really excited by the number of bars in south London – not so long ago you’d have had to trek into central for any kind of cocktail, but now there are some excellent places in Camberwell and New Cross, as well as Brixton.
As we both live in the Brixton/Stockwell area we were keen to stay as local as possible which led us to a small space on Coldharbour Lane. We took it over in August and spent one month refurbishing the place ourselves. We tried to keep as many of the original features as possible, such as the floor, but moved the bar to a more central point to make the experience quite theatrical.
What’s your signature cocktail?
Tricky question as our menu changes fairly often dependent on what’s in season. At the moment The Deer Hunter is going down extremely well – it’s essentially an old fashioned with a ‘Hunters Lodge’ feel. We use Tincup Bourbon, smoking pipe bitters (we make all of our own bitters on site) and Russian birch sap, and serve in a crystal rocks glass with a piece of cooked venison on the side. You Can’t Handle Chartreuse and ‘Av a Zombie & Bitch are also crowd pleasers.
Again this changes, but at the moment Chris is utterly obsessed with an American gin called St George’s Terroir Gin. It’s distilled in California and is extremely aromatic, inspired by the surrounding landscape. It’s like drinking an American pine forest – in a good way. I’m really into Poppy Liqueur which is like a bubblegum confectionery tasting liqueur. It’s great in a margarita, but I use it in a cocktail on the menu dedicated to a good friend of mine called the Bandage of Brothers (he was in the BBC drama Band of Brothers).
What’s your perfect G&T?
My favourite gin at the moment is Whitley Neill gin – it’s inspired by South African ingredients but made here in the UK. Slightly softer than most gins, it’s packed full of exotic spices. I start with a high ball glass packed with ice, pour in 50ml of the gin, add four drops of Fee Brothers Rhubarb Bitters and serve with Fever-Tree Mediterranean Tonic Water, along with a slice of pink grapefruit on the side of the glass.
Where do you stand on The Great Debate – gin or vodka martini?
I like mine wet (higher proportion of vermouth to gin or vodka) with a twist of lemon. If I’m going to have to have a vodka martini it has to be with Snow Queen Vodka, but I do think gin martinis have the edge (just) – No 3 London Dry Gin and Elephant Gin both work excellently in gin-based martinis.
What’s the strangest thing a customer has ever ordered?
I was once asked for the ‘basic fries package’ – definitely the weirdest way someone has ever asked for a bowl of chips!
Any tips on top trends for 2015?
I think we’ll hear more from vodka in 2015 – and we’re sure lots more unusual ingredients will arrive on the market, there’s so much innovation in the industry at the moment. We’re obsessed with weird ingredients and combinations, and we’re keen to encourage Brixtonites to challenge us by requesting all sorts of wacky cocktails – we love to experiment and have fun! We’ll be launching some detox inspired salad cocktails in January which we promise will taste delicious.
Favourite local haunts?
Chris has lived in Brixton for 36 years and I’ve been in Stockwell for eight so we’ve both seen lots of changes in the area. We’ve always loved the Effra – mostly for the vibe and the history (and I have a soft spot for the swing top Grolsch bottles). We think 384 is great – we have drinks with the team – and before service you can usually find me in Market House. Food wise, I’m a big fan of Senzala Creperie’s incredible crepes. Who doesn’t like an Honest Burger as well?
And finally, do you have a favourite cocktail our readers could try at home?
A simpler version of You Can’t Handle Chartreuse is a brilliant one to try – if you have a party coming up you could easily adjust the measurements and mix in a punch bowl to add a bit of theatre.
Ingredients (serves two)
Gin (we use Portobello Road Gin, RRP £24 per bottle via Master of Malt online)
Mezcal (you could use any, we like Del Maguey Mezcal, RRP £38.36 via Master of Malt online)
Yellow Chartreuse (available from most independent off licences)
Sprig of thyme
At The Shrub and Shutter we serve the drink in a jelly mould, but you could use any kind of glass at home, such as a high ball. Start with a glass filled with ice. Pour 40ml of the gin, 10ml of the mezcal, 10ml of the chartreuse, 50ml of the pineapple juice, 25ml of the elderflower cordial and 20ml of lemon juice into the glass. Transfer into a cocktail shaker (including the ice) and shake really hard. Serve with a sprig of thyme and a few gummy bears on the side.
The Shrub and Shutter, Address: 336 Coldharbour Lane, Brixton SW9 8QH
Opening times: Tue-Wed 5pm -1am; Thur 5pm-2am; Fri 5pm -3am; Sat noon-3am; Sun noon-6pm