The capital with the eye of an expat
A Christmas tipple
There’s a societal pressure there to give. And give big. And yes, I like to give. More than I like to get, actually as I’ve too much stuff. I don’t need more stuff. I’m all for the experience, the consumable: the only space they take up is in my mind or in my belly.
I’ve wondered, too, why so many charities have their annual fundraising this time of year. A time when people are under pressure to go above and beyond financially. I suspect there’s an element of old-fashioned guilting there, somewhere. Of course, nothing can take away from the fact that while half the world celebrates in style, the other half languishes in want.
It’s all rather depressing. I find it far too easy to spiral down that rabbit hole, particularly this time of year, which is why I was delighted to run into Dez O’Connell recently. He never fails to lighten my mood. Apart from his innate wit and bonhomie, he serves up a mean cocktail.
An actor by trade, O’Connell fell into bartending during a ‘waiting for a gig’ period in his life when a local bar needed a bartender. He worked his way up through the ranks and realised that bartending was another form of acting, mixing drinks another form of storytelling.
As a bar and spirits consultant, O’Connell met his Hungarian-born wife while working in the beverage business in London where, as a 26-year-old, he was managing three bars around St James’s Street and making a name for himself in the world of competitive mixing. He made the grade in such notables as the Diageo World Class Bartender Competition and the Campari World Cup Cocktail Competition.
In 2008, when he did the math and reflected that he hadn’t had more than 10 days off in two years, they decided to take three months and drive through Croatia and Italy, eventually settling in Hungary.
At that time, the bar and restaurant business here was beginning to modernise. Money was plentiful but while the fixtures and fittings were top-notch, there was little by way of knowledge and nothing at all by way of soul. All style and no substance, he said, noting that most of them are closed now.
‘You’d go into a high-end bar and ask for a classic cocktail. The bartender wouldn’t even ask how you liked it but would serve up a bad one’, O’Connell said thoughtfully. In a Wedding-of-Cana type moment, his wife told him he had to do something about it. That was 2010.
Over the years, O’Connell has educated and inspired both bartenders and guests. A decade and more later, he is future-proofing the industry. He trains. He consults. He designs. He ran the Alchemists night at Brody for years, mixing cocktails with film and literature and live music. It was a fabulous concept. Watching Casablanca while drinking what Bogart and Bacall were drinking. Or being immersed in Tiki culture and post-WWII architecture while sipping on cocktails served with a cultural context.
A natty dresser, O’Connell always looks the part, whatever the occasion. Now Beverage Director at Bombay Budapest, the actor is still alive and well inside this mixologist. I love running into him. He’s as generous with his advice as he is with his talent. I’d recently tracked down a bottle of angostura bitter but couldn’t for the life of me remember why I’d spent six months looking for it. He got it in one. For my whisky sour. Duh.
When it comes to Christmas tipples, thoughts turn to warmth. Christmas markets wouldn’t be the same without a mug of mulled wine to wrap your hands around. O’Connell isn’t a big fan of hot alcoholic drinks as the booze always seems to spike out (think average mulled wine here). But he makes an exception for this one.
Hot buttered rum and cider garnished with a cinnamon stick and clove-studded lemon slice
‘I’ve adapted a recipe from the 1940s. The idea of hot-buttered rum, toddies, and nogs can be traced back to both sides of the Atlantic in the seventeenth century. Got to be good, then! Classics are classics for a reason. This is good for the home bartender as it can all be made (built) in a glass or mug. Or multiplied for multiple servings in a suitable jug, bearing in mind it should be piping hot. It has a wonderful texture and spice and the excellent, sweet Diplomatico shines through on the finish. Avoid using an overly sweet cider.’
Method: Build and stir
Glass: Toddy or large mug
Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva Rum – 40ml
Runny honey – 10ml
Unsalted butter – 2 heaped teaspoons
Boiling dry cider to top
Grated nutmeg and cinnamon
Lovely if you like rum and cider and cloves and hot drinks. I was after something that wouldn’t require boiling a kettle, though.
Brandy flip garnished with grated nutmeg
‘This next drink can be served hot or cold and is for the more confident bartender. I’ll have mine cold, shaken hard with large ice cubes. The very first Flips emerged as early as the late 1600s. Sugar, eggs, and spices were added to a tankard of ale into which a hot red poker was plunged to froth and heat it up. It must have been fun to do. I’m not sure you should do this at home though, kids. This beats any Eggnog for me. Nowadays a Flip can be any booze shaken with a whole egg and sweetened with sugar. Great with the King of Brandies of course. The chocolate bitters are available at WhiskyNet and other drink/ cocktail shops.’
Method: Frothed and shaken single strain
AVS Cognac – 50ml
Sugar syrup – 15ml
Double cream – 10ml
Whole egg – 1
Chocolate bitters dash
So, cheers to you all. As always, if you drink, drink responsibly. And never, ever drink and drive. Happy Christmas. Nollaig shona doaibh go léir. Boldog Karácsonyt.
If you want to give a memorable gift this Christmas, or any time, book Dez O’Connell and his crew for your party. A guaranteed way to ensure that everyone goes home happy.