Edinburgh Cocktail Week 2022: We preview some of the special drinks on offer
It’s back, and bigger than ever
They say that the first ever cocktail was the brandy-based sazerac, which was invented in a New Orleans apothecary sometime in the mid 19th-century.
However, I only became aware of this genre in the Eighties, when my older half sister had a penchant for snowballs - a mixture of Advocaat, lime and lemonade.
Then there was snakebite, if that counts, and the Noughties Sex & the City era, with its Manhattans and cosmopolitans.
Fast forward to 2022 and we’re at peak cocktail. Bars are expected to impress us with the classics, but also have signature repertoires.
If you’re a fan, the Scottish capital is the place to be.
Not only do we have an exciting bar scene, there’s also Edinburgh Cocktail Week, which has been extended to a ten-day-long affair, from October 7-16.
This is the festival’s fifth year and it extends to 120 bars in the capital, where those who’re wearing a wristband (priced from £9.35) can can get a signature cocktail for £5 or around £9 for an upmarket Prestige version. Participating venues include The Alchemist, Bonnie & Wild, Harvey Nichols, The Cocktail Mafia, Bittersweet and Tonic.
The event’s hub is the Cocktail Village on Festival Square, where there’s live music, and you’ll find 21 bars from Matugga Rum to The Glenlivet, among others.
There’s also a rooftop Mirror Mirror Bar at The Glasshouse Hotel, and new experiences including Cocktail & Comedy Nights, Ball Pit & Cocktail and Dramming in the Dark.
On my preview of a few of the bars’ offerings, we start the mini crawl at One Square (1 Festival Square, www.onesquareedinburgh.co.uk), where they’ll be offering One Spritz One Love. This contains a mixture of their own One Square Gin, which is made in small batches by Pickering’s at Summerhall Distillery, the pear liqueur that is Belle de Brillet and homemade white wine and rosemary syrup, all topped with Prosecco and soda. It’s a long and very sophisticated drink, topped by a dehydrated slice of orange and a fluorescent-looking flower, and it’s disconcertingly summer-y. It makes me pine for warmer days, as I don my polo neck in the plush bar of the five-star Sheraton Hotel.
Our next destination is very different.
While One Square and its comfy seats suit the more, ahem, sophisticated or mature crowd, like yours truly, the young independent that is 4042 late night liquor bar (40-42 Grindlay Street, www.4042.co.uk) is new to me. It’s in what used to be The Citrus Club, which is a terrifying blast-from-the-past, especially since I didn’t even realise it had closed down.
They’re playing Nineties hip-hop, and it’s dark, graffiti-ed and neon inside, with drinks menus that look like takeaway food ones. On one of these, I read that their permanent cocktails include Death by Chocolate - Johnnie Walker Black Label, Frangelico Hazelnut Liqueur, creme de cacao, chocolate bitters and espresso.
There’s Hooch in the fridge and they do boozy slushies. However, their Edinburgh Cocktail Week special is Little Cubana - a combination of Havana Club Cuban Spiced Rum, Malibu, Passoa, pineapple juice, fresh lime and mint. It’s as fruity as a party punch. The bar manager says it’s similar to the creation they made for last year’s festival and people were requesting it for weeks after the event had finished.
Apparently, this place has ping pong tables out back. If I’d finished this cocktail, I’m sure I would have imagined myself as a world champion, rather than someone who has to retrieve the ball from the floor every 30 seconds. I may not be their usual demographic, but I’d like to stay longer.
Instead, we’re off to Innis & Gunn Brewery Taproom (81-83 Lothian Road, www.innisandgunn.com). It’s been here for seven years, and I’ve never been in, since I’m not much of a beer drinker. Although it’s a Wednesday night, this place is rammed, perhaps since they’ve got the football on the telly.
It’s not your typical cocktail joint, but they’ve created the Purple Rain with Whitley Neill Parma Violet Gin, lemon juice, Butterfly Pea Tea Infusion and Prosecco. This might not be for everyone, since Parma Violets tend to split the crowd, but I’m a huge fan of these soapy sweets (and Prince), so it’s a yes from me.
Our final destination is the all-day dining venue, Eve (18-20 Cowgate, www.virginhotels.com) at the new Virgin Hotel Edinburgh. In fact, we’re the first through the doors, since this box fresh restaurant and bar doesn’t officially open until October 7. It’s a modern but comfortable space, with murals by Dutch graffiti artists, Studio Giftig, which include a girl holding a capercaillie, as well as monstera plants and velvety seats in rich autumnal colours.
I imagine it’s going to be busy, not only for Edinburgh Cocktail Week but also because they’ll be doing 50 per cent off food until October 29, if you book on their website.
Their Prestige Cocktail is my favourite. Chuckleberry Thief is a combination of Edinburgh Gin, Campari, Bristol Syrup Company Grapefruit Sherbet and Lucky Chuckleberry, topped with soda. They say that their cocktail menu will feature a lot of these long spritzy drinks, as well as twists on classics such as the Picante Paloma or a Pin-Up, which is a re-imagining of the Pornstar Martini.
Anyway, although I didn’t finish any of these too-strong-for-me cocktails, I must be over my personal limit.
They let me out the doors into the Cowgate, and I got trapped behind the building site barriers, which had yet to be taken down as they were just finishing up. I banged on the fire door, but nobody could hear me. After 20 minutes, a moustachioed and lovely chef – aka my hero – exited the back door to put the rubbish out and released me. He showed me the huge and unmissable sign on the gate, saying “lift to exit”. The shame.
Drink responsibly, kids.