Not many people in the U.S.A. have heard of Dick Bradsell. Come to think of it, not many folks in the United Kingdom, his homeland, know who he is, either.
But, if you’re the least bit geeky when it comes to the world of cocktails, you might just know that Dick Bradsell is the man who single-handedly changed the face of the cocktail scene in London in the 1980s. He’s trained many of today’s top London bartenders, and he’s still hard at work behind the stick.
I’ve known Dick for only a few years, and whenever I’ve been around him he’s lived up to his reputation for being quirky, strange, lovable and a bit of a curmudgeon. I’ve been privileged to see his gargoyle imitation late one night at a private party, and I’ve been lucky enough to have sipped cocktails made by the man, too.
When I first met Mr. Bradsell he was working at the Colony Room Club, a pretty exclusive artsy joint that was opened by Muriel Belcher in the 1940s, and was frequented by luminaries such as Francis Bacon, the Anglo-Irish painter whose portrait of Belcher sold in Paris for a whopping 13.7 million euros in 2007.
| Craig Lee
Princess Margaret and Dylan Thomas also had occasion to visit the Colony Room Club, and British model Kate Moss did a stint behind the bar there, I’m told. Sadly, the club closed after losing its lease in 2008.
When it comes to cocktails, the Bramble, a mixture of gin, lemon juice, creme de mure – a blackberry liqueur – and simple syrup is probably Dick’s most famous drink. The key to its success lies in its simplicity, Dick doesn’t tend toward complicated ingredients. He relies more on matching flavors and balancing them well.
I visited Dick in London earlier this year. He’s now holding forth from behind the bar at El Camino, a Mexican restaurant in Soho, and although many of the customers there don’t have a clue who is making their drinks, those in the know head to this place specifically to have a drink made by Britain’s cocktail guru.
El Camino is a Mexican place, so I thought that tequila was in order. I asked Dick to make me a tequila-based Negroni when I first walked into his bar. It worked quite well. When it came time for the second round, though, a friend of mine more or less insisted that I try a Treacle, another of Dick’s creations.
Like the Bramble, the Treacle is a simple affair, but drinks don’t get much better than this – and I mean those words with all the strength I can give them. It’s not much more than a rum-based Old-Fashioned with a float of apple juice, but these are simple twists that lead to greatness in a well-thought-out drink.
Myers’s dark rum works well in the Treacle. As for the apple juice, keep in mind that this is the ingredient that brings the whole drink together in harmony, so look for some freshly pressed organic juice, or at least something that hasn’t been overly processed.
As I noted above, Dick Bradsell is a man who lives up to his reputation. He’s quirky, strange, lovable and a bit of a curmudgeon, too. After sipping his Treacle, though, I’m going to add “genius” to that list.
Makes 1 drink
Adapted from a recipe by Dick Bradsell, El Camino, London.
2 ounces dark rum
1/2 ounce simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1/2 ounce apple juice
Instructions: Stir the rum, simple syrup and bitters together in an ice-filled old-fashioned glass for at least 20 seconds. Float the apple juice on top of the drink.
The Cocktailian is reprinted with the kind permission of The San Francisco Chronicle. Gary Regan is the author of The Joy of Mixology, and co-host with Mardee Haidin Regan, of ArdentSpirits.com, and the Worldwide Bartender Database. You can reach him at [email protected]