Bramble Bar & Lounge, 16A Queen Street, Edinburgh EH2 1JE
Ph: 0131 226 6343
“The last time I was here, I chatted up a girl and took her back to my room”, sighed X, our genial host, “this time I’m afraid it’s going to be you Vikram”. I didn’t know X swung or shall I say shook both ways, given that we were in Bramble in Edinburgh, a subterranean temple to the cocktail shaker.
There are 3 kinds of weather they say in Scotland, cold, wet or cold and wet. Well we seem to have lucked out, cause we’ve had nary a cloud the first 2 days of our trip, and Edinburgh is to treat us no worse, than Ayrshire. A day spent in worthwhile pursuits at the Fringe is to be capped by a visit to Bramble, which routinely finds itself on the list of the World’s 50 best bars.
A small bar, but with lots of nooks and crannies, one could also imagine Bonnie Prince Charlie using Bramble as a hideaway. I have no idea of course if he ever would have needed one, but a hideout seems like the kind of thing that persecuted Scottish nobility might need.
The nooks (and corners) are dotted with pop references, somewhere a Run DMC poster from 1986 and another a Sweeny Todd (the demon barber of Fleet Street) publicity still. The music is a mix of rap and hip-hop.
With 8 mixing tins lined up on the counter, Bramble is all business, manned as it is by a solitary bartender and one bar back (they alternate on a nightly basis). I start my evening on the bartender’s recommendation with a Celery Sour, an adaptation of the original recipe from Tom Bullock’s 1917 book, the Ideal bartender. Voted the World’s best gin by The Drinks Report in 2016, Martin Miller’s Westbourne Gin was created on the specific request of mixologists who wanted a more old school gin for their classic cocktails, and forms the soul of my drink. For old school, read a higher alcoholic percentage, and a focus on cassia and nutmeg flavours. The celery comes in via Bitter Truth’s celery bitters, and a touch of fresh pineapple juice, makes for a welcome touch of the tropic.
One of the alcoves also houses a display window with the Bramble’s very own bottled cocktail, called Affinity, what we might call the Perfect Manhattan, combining as it does Single malt scotch whisky, Vermouth and Bitters. And as the label indicated, “genuine potable zeitgeist” (zeitgeist – spirit of the age or the times). The Affinity is barrel aged and then bottle aged, before it’s served to you, along with a chilled coupe glass and a mister with orange bitters. The Affinity is the cocktail that got away for me, and the one I need to sample on my return to Bramble.
I spot a gent at the bar having a drink in a teacup attached to a stem glass (see picture), which arouses an overwhelming feeling of covetousness in me, and I order up a Mint 500, which as the choice of glassware suggests, has Hendrick’s Gin at it’s base. 2 days ago we had been visiting the Hendrick’s distillery in Ayrshire, and there Lesley Gracie, the Master Distiller explained to us, that the inspiration for the rose and cucumber which infuse Hendrick’s, comes from a typical British high tea, which is often enjoyed in the garden, with cucumber sandwiches to accompany, and hence the tea cup for this Hendrick’s cocktail. I know not where the 500 in the name comes from, but this tea time drink sure packs a punch, and I raise a toast to Leslie and David Stewart, the Balvenie Malt Master, who conceived the use of rose and cucumber for Hendrick’s.
Velvet Falernum is an intriguing name for a cocktail ingredient, sounds like something I should be buying off an Edinburgh street corner, rather than imbibing in a cocktail and I order up a Founding Father next, which has this spicy alcoholic syrup complementing the Rye with Yellow Chartreuse and Fernet Branca rounding off the recipe.
Founding Father is an appropriate choice of penultimate cocktail as my last cocktail for the evening, is the Bramble, eponymous to the bar I’m standing in and created by Dick Bradsell, considered by many as one of the most influential bartenders of the modern age, and who passed away in 2016 at the age of 56. For all I know, it’s his genius, which is Bramble’s zeitgeist, and he’s remembered here for sure in perpetuity. As for me, I’m happy to note that X has found a lassie by the bar to chat up!