For years we have been inundated with brand-marketing telling us that X gin is the best choice for a Martini, or you can’t have an Aviation without Y. And don’t even think about adding Z to a Tom Collins – it’s sacrilegious!
To an extent, they are correct. Some gins, for example, simply have too many bitter botanicals to work in an Aviation, and others don’t have the legs to hold their own in a decent Martini.
However, if you were to attempt to stock the ‘perfect’ brand for every cocktail (and its infinite permeations), you’d need a backbar the length of your patience for good tippers and the height of your awareness for pretty girls at the bar.
Enter Dre Masso and his latest venture, L.T.D at The Social, where they only stock one of each spirit category – one vodka, one gin, one rum, one tequila, one whiskey, and one brandy – but they are certain they are the ‘best of the best’.
BLUK: So, tell us about the concept behind L.T.D at The Social.
DM: There’s too much choice these days. London bartenders can be pretty savvy, but it can be trickier for the customers. I mean, do customers really know the difference between Tanqueray or Beefeater? So, what we wanted to do was make it simpler for all involved, while still getting a high-quality drink.
BLUK: Maybe so, but how do you choose the ‘best of the best’?
DM: We formed a committee of 20 industry people – no sponsorship – and asked every member to vote for their top five spirits in each category under £20, looking for ones that would work best as a cocktail base. The second stage involved blind tasting and a comparison of the three finalists of each section. I took myself out of the panel at this stage. All spirits were sampled neat and in a cocktail.
BLUK: Did you get a wide range of brands in each category? Were there any surprises?
DM: For some categories like vodka and gin, there were some really obvious patterns in the brands that made the top three. For instance the top three vodka brands included Stolichnaya, Wyborowa which are from the home of vodka, while the top three gin brands were Beefeater, Tanqueray and Plymouth, three brands with loads of heritage.
Whiskey was the most surprising category, there were so many brands mentioned. Scotch whiskies can be difficult as they can be really malty or full of peat. The final three included Johnnie Walker Blue and Maker’s Mark.
BLUK: What were the winning brands?
DM: Stolichnaya vodka, Beefeater London Dry gin, Havana Club 7 yr old rum, Jameson Irish whiskey, Ocho Blanco vintage tequila and Courvoisier VS Cognac. We also serve just two lagers – Camden IPA and Camden Lager, as well as just four wines chosen from the guys at Planet of the Grapes.
BLUK: What has the reception to the concept been like?
DM: It’s been really good. I was expecting more conflict – on Friday night it was normal, and then on the Saturday we came in and turned it into L.T.D, so we were expecting a bit of backlash, but it’s been great. We have lots of industry come in, and consumer-wise we also have a lot of regulars. I think having the menu with pictures of all the drinks, and a little description about what we’re all about helps. It’s not just one cocktail for each spirit, but six signature drinks, as well.
BLUK: You’re more than just the brains behind the concept, you’re also pulling a shifts behind the bar, what’s that like?
It’s also been a great learning experience for me. I haven’t been behind the bar for maybe 6 or 8 years, so this has given me new insight!
BLUK: What else is happening at L.T.D at The Social?
DM: Desert island discs is on every Tuesday night. It’s a bit of an industry night where, like the BBC radio show, industry greats come in and take over the decks and play the tunes which have meant the most to them throughout their careers. So far it’s been great. We’ve had Tomas Estes and Julio Bermejo in, as well as Peter Dorelli and Salvatore Calabrese.
Also, we’ve got a photo exhibition running – Behind Bars – which has photos I’ve taken of some of the great industry people over the years including Phil Bayley and Manuel Terron.
BLUK: What happens come the New Year, when L.T.D at The Social closes its doors?
DM: Well, they’ll be looking for someone new to takeover! When I came in, it was basically a blank canvas, which I’ve hijacked until Christmas. So, they’ll need a new team and a new idea for the space.