TUCKED upstairs in the Market Place – away from the crowds in Victoria Square – was the Jonny Cocktail pop-up bar, where Bolton Food and Drink Festival visitors could take a cocktail masterclass. Sixteen years after his last shift at the Wilton Arms, failed bartender Steven Thompson went back behind the bar.
AS the Bolton Food and Drink Festival has grown over the past few years, one of the joys of the event has been discovering some of the fringe events happening on the outskirts, away from the hubbub of the main square.
Granted, a Sunday morning is not the ideal time to learn how to mix up a mojito – while drinking your failed attempts – but if you are going to give it whirl, then a food festival is the place to do it, because there is no shortage of options around to soak up the alcohol.
So with an organic Saddleback sausage butty (on artisan bread, of course) in my belly and a Fairtrade Guatemalan flat white in hand, I headed up to the Jonny Cocktail pop-up, in the Market Place, where bartender Richard Rhodes showed me and three others the tricks of his trade.
After brief introductions around Manchester firm’s mobile bar, the affable 34-year-old first has a few things he needs to get off his chest. Ice is the key to a good cocktail, he tells us.
“People think that too much ice will dilute the drink, but the opposite is true,” the 34-year-old explains. “If you only have one ice cube, then the drink will not be cold, so the ice will melt quicker. If you want a warm drink, go to a real ale pub. If you want a good cocktail, then it has to be cold, so you need lots of ice.”
Punters asking him to beef up their cocktails with more booze is another bugbear, it seems.
“When people say, ‘go on, chuck a bit extra in there for me’, that’s just wrong,” he adds. “These cocktail recipes have been perfected over hundreds of hours, so if you were to add more vodka or whatever, then it would no longer be the cocktail they asked for and it probably wouldn’t taste great either.”
First up, we learnt how to make a mojito, probably my favourite cocktail. First, our tutor grabs four slices of lime – about half a lime – and in a glass which he explains is a Collins glass, he “muddles them up” using a wooden stick called a muddler. This is akin to gently mashing the limes to extract all the juice. Next, mint. Richard takes half a dozen leaves then, with the green stuff in his hand, he slaps his palms together. This, he explains, is to “wake it up”. It woke me up anyway. It was still only 11.30am. Not exactly cocktail hour.
He added the mint and a handful of large ice cubes before squeezing in gomm syrup (sugar water) and a good slug of Barcardi. A mojito isn’t one of those shake it all about cocktails. It’s stirred, so next, Richard takes a metal bar spoon, covers the drink with a napkin and gives it a good old mix. To finish, he tops it up with crushed ice and soda and finishes it with two straws and a mint garnish.
We were also taught how to make a Tom Collins and, for the Sex in the City fans, a cosmopolitan, before it was our turn to have a bash at one of the concoctions. You may have guessed, at this point, that I took in more about the mojito than the other two, mainly because that was the one I wanted to know how to make at home.
I was up against a chap called Mike, from Manchester, as Richard judged each of our cocktails to see who had been paying most attention.
Crushingly, Mike’s effort was deemed to be the best. Mine, Richard said, was okay, but I hadn’t added quite enough syrup. Still, it tasted pretty good to me, especially for my first effort. I will be putting in more practice at home and I reckon I’ll be knocking up the perfect mojito in no time. Watch out Tom Cruise.