Cocktail Masterclass at Cane & Grain

I know that my place in a bar, is firmly in front of it, cocktail in hand, chatting to the bar staff. I’m not graceful or confident enough for the choreography that goes on behind it – knowing what sits where, skilfully dodging a colleague while they serve another customer, all the while my mind full of the ingredients for whatever I’m mixing, as well as whatever else has been ordered.

But every so often, it’s good to step the other side. To remember why I’m better off suited seated in front of it, to appreciate good a good bartender (and appreciate even more an excellent one) and to have the opportunity to get a little geeky with it.  

Cane & Grain offer two different cocktail master classes that you can book onto, and as well as throwing some cocktails together (not literally, please see the first paragraph and the notes on skills), there’s a little history involved.  

It was to their Cheeky Tiki rum fuelled master class, held in the Liars Lounge upstairs that a few bloggers went, keen to learn more about Tiki, Don the Beachcomber and the origins of those flaming cocktails. 

For the uninitiated, Cane & Grain is a trio of bars in one – the ground floor is a casual skater bar with beers, cocktails and ribs. On the first floor is the secret bourbon bar, with button backed seating, wood panelling, quieter dining and classy cocktails. And upstairs, is the Liars Lounge – a smaller version of the Liar’s Club which though every time I’ve visited has been quiet and sedate, turns into a tiki rugby scrum on a Friday and Saturday night.

Emily and Joel were our hosts for the evening – Emily on hand to impart Tiki wisdom and guide us through cocktails, Joel to demonstrate with a shaker or two. 

Tiki owes it’s existence to two fascinating chaps – Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic. Don, began his career in alcohol as a bootlegger during Prohibition, and after leaving home in 1926 to go travelling, returned to his home in the USA, this time to Hollywood, bringing with him all things Polynesian. He opened his bar, ‘Don’s Beachcomber Cafe’ in the 1930s, which soon became popular with stars and celebrities of the day. 

After WWII, when Don himself served, Tiki had exploded in popularity and continued to do so during the 1940s and 1950s. He was joined in the late 1930s by Trader Vic, who opened his first bar in Oakland, before his bar too turned into a chain and spread in popularity. These two gents are behind many of the Tiki cocktails we know today (though many of their origins are understandably a teeny bit hazy). 

Our first cocktail of the evening was the Daiquiri – having it’s origins in history as a naval drink, it’s a very simple blend of lime (25ml), sugar syrup (10-15ml depending on how sweet you want it), and white rum (50ml). The rum of choice for this evening was Bacardi Costa Blanca, a molasses based rum, created in a column still that though it is aged, has it’s colour removed via charcoal filter.

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Simply add the ingredients to your shaker, add ice, and shake, just to chill and dilute the drink a little and pour. 

Our second cocktail of the night was the Mai Tai, which both Trade Vic and Don the Beachcomber claim to have created. In his Hollywood bar, amongst other cocktails, Don created the ‘Original Beachcomber Rum Concoction’, allegedly the drink that later became known as the Mai Tai.

Meantime, our friend Vic claims he wanted to make something a little special friends visiting from Tahiti. He created the drink which his friends sampled and exclaimed ‘Mai tai roa ae!’, is Tahitian for ‘out of this world, the best’ – which he shortened to Mai Tai.

Whichever story you believe, the Mai Tai of today has many different forms, but the one used by Cane & Grain is a blend of lime juice (25ml), gomme (5ml), orgeat (5ml), curacao (12ml) and dark rum (50ml) – in our case Appleton VX. The ingredients are again shaken and strained into a glass with crushed ice and decorated with as much tiki style garnishes as possible.

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Cocktail umbrellas, cherries, pineapple, mint and preferably feature a grumpy faced tiki mask somewhere.

Our penultimate cocktail of the evening too has an air of romance surrounding it’s creation. Formerly a member of Don the Beachcomber’s staff in Hollywood, Ray Buhen had as colourful a life as either of the two Tiki founders. Eventually after working in bars all over the world, he set up his own bar the Tiki-Ti in the 1960s. Then in 1968, Ray accidentally put the wrong syrups in another cocktail (the Anting Anting, or ‘Witches’ Brew’ in Tagalog). Though he realised his mistake, the customer prevented him from discarding the drink, saying he’d drink it anyway. And the Ray’s Mistake was born.

Featuring both rum and gin, Ray’s Mistake from Cane & Grain is a combination of lime juice (25ml), guava juice (25ml), pineapple juice (25ml), coconut water (12.5ml), coconut cream (12.5ml), passion fruit (1 bar spoon), grenadine (1 bar spoon), El Dorado 3 Year Old Rum (25ml) and Bombay Sapphire (25ml). Again, it’s shaken until it’s chilled, diluted, and turns a pale ‘Pepto Bismol‘ colour. 

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It’s then served over crushed ice, garnished with pineapple leaves and passion fruit. 

Our final cocktail of the night and there could only be one. The Zombie.

Every Zombie is a little bit different – and recipes are kept closely guarded secrets. The Zombie became a very ‘macho’ drink, as it’s strength meant that only two were meant to be served to any customer. Again, there’s some dispute as to its origins, but most attribute it to Don the Beachcomber, who allegedly created it for a customer suffering from a hangover who needed a way to make it through a business meeting. The customer returned days later and complained that he had been turned into a zombie for the entire trip.

The recipe for the Zombie at Cane & Grain too, is a little bit of a secret, but again it contains lime, pineapple, guava, orange and apple juices (25 ml each), and then 75ml of ‘Zombie Mix’ which we’re told contains 6 different types of rum, absinthe and cherry brandy. 

Once again, everything is added to the tin, shaken with ice and this time poured into a tin cup – as the Zombie involves fire, it’s good to have something a little fire retardant. 

Once topped with crushed ice, an empty lime half is filled with Tiki Fire rum, and sugar and set alight, with cinnamon sprinkled on top for theatre. 

You can’t beat a little fire with your rum.

We had a fantastic time behind the bar, Emily’s knowledge only spurred me on to dig a little deeper into Tiki and it’s origins. Any excuse to get a little geeky with it.

You too can indulge in a master class for £25 per person, but yours may also include a head to head Zombie making competition and a shot or two to finish. 

Whatever the weather outside, be it grey sky or blue, the rum will always shine in Liars. 

With thanks to Cane & Grain for the invitation, we had a fantastic time playing behind the bar, though my ineptitude continues to prove that I should stay firmly the other side.

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