Cocktail making is an intricate art and the world’s best bartenders are the mixology equivalent of Michelin star chefs. As connoisseurs become increasingly discerning and cocktail drinking develops into an experience rather than simply refreshment, the whole industry is changing, particularly in cosmopolitan cities like London. The Donovan Bar at Brown’s Hotel is one of the bars at the forefront of the revolution. We sat down with Riccardo Vecchio, Head Bartender of The Donovan Bar, to discuss the latest trends in cocktail making and the bar’s innovative new menu.
How did your passion for cocktail making develop?
“When I started my career in The Donovan Bar, I was looking after everything at the back of the bar, from preparing fruits and ice to cleaning glassware. I discovered my passion for making cocktails by watching my colleagues prepare amazing drinks for guests. I was fascinated by how they understood the importance of each element and combined flavours, garnishes and presentation to create a beautiful cocktail. They were, and still are, my inspiration.”
What’s the recipe for a great cocktail?
“Innovation, bespoke blends, history and, of course, a lot of love. It’s also important to talk to guests to find out what they’re interested in.”
What are biggest trends in cocktail making for 2016?
“The cocktail business runs so fast that new trends are being created nearly every day - there is no time to sleep! At the moment, everything can be a new trend, from concept menus like our new Donovan Bar Around the Globe menu, to molecular mixology and innovative presentation such as cocktails served inside metal cans.”
Are there any particular spirits to look out for this year?
“It seems that a new range of spirit comes out every day. I mainly drink tequila but this year there has been a big boom in the popularity of vodka and gin. Another current trend is ageing spirits as much as possible.”
You’ve created many cocktail recipes. What’s your process when starting one from scratch?
“My first consideration is history. For me, there is no cocktail without history. When I create a drink I always think about the question ‘why?’ so that I have an answer to give to guests when they ask.”
Tell us about the new concept menu, Donovan Around the Globe, which has just launched.
“The menu is inspired by the seven continents and drinks will be presented along with business cards. We wanted to deliver something different so we created fragranced cards which, when scratched, release an evocative smell of each of the continents. It’s about travelling without travelling. People won’t visit a country but they’ll experience it through flavour. For example, if you choose Africa, you will smell pineapple, which is the sign of hospitality in Africa, while in the drink you’ll also taste banana, because Africa is one of the world’s biggest producers of bananas. I think this menu will be special because of the interaction between bartender and guest. It also gives guests an opportunity for a new experience and to explore a new continent. Nobody has done it in this way before.”
As well as innovative cocktail menus, Donovan Bar is known for hosting pop-up events. What do you have coming up this year?
“We do Bloody Mary masterclasses on a Sunday for up to eight guests and one-off pop-up events. We did a beluga and caviar pop-up in March, which was a huge success. For the summer we offered a Wimbledon cocktail, as well as a popular 'Artini' cocktail for Brown's London Art Weekend. We regularly host pop ups in our Library - the latest was a Belvedere Spritz one, and we are planning a magical winter grotto for the festive season. Watch this space.”