1073 Cocktails and 238 Bars now listed
The prospect of drinking in a bar with no ice and no citrus sounds dodgy. I’m kind of expecting a bunker somewhere where the cocktails are served in tin cups and the staff are dressed like extras from Dad’s Army. This scenario seems even more likely when we stumble across the actual venue – a cobbled side-street in the hip area of Hoxton. But we’ve veered off the main drag, where people are alternatively rocking neon sportswear and/or handlebar mustaches, and onto what looks like a deserted street. There’s a clandestine black door beneath a (slightly confusing) sign of a White Horse, and a knocker that suggests we’re at the right place. And a peep inside confirms this is definitely the place to be for cool drinks…
The White Lyan is famous for its scientific approach to cocktails – an approach that sees them disregard the traditional methods of using ice and citrus. The concept is the brainchild of Iain Griffiths and Ryan Chetiyawardana, who decided that, when it came to mixology, people were missing a trick. They surmised that, since lemons and limes vary from batch to batch in taste and juice, and ice, when melting, dilutes a drink, then both of these variables make for a somewhat corrupt cocktail. We all know what it’s like to get to the last dregs of a watery Bloody Mary, or sip a mojito made overly-sour by lime.
So the idea is simple. They use vinegars, shrubs, cordials and homemade potions in the place of citrus fruit, and use spirits directly from the distilleries which they then tamper with on site. No recognizable back bar here then. And by refrigerating the finished concoction, you always get a drink that is an exact and precise temperature.
These refrigerators are indeed one of the first things noticeable when you enter The White Lyan. And there’s no shabby-chic Blitz style decor here – it’s very much chemist-cool. Exposed brick walls, chrome, and those glowing fridges, looming behind the bar almost like some sort of laboratory specimen holders from a sci-fi film. But inside are the glowing bottles of a willy-wonka-esque supply of cocktails. Exciting.
The bar is long and shiny and has seats for people to perch and see the magic happen – which is precisely what I recommend, since it’s half the fun of attending. Sometimes the best way to get a feel of a place is by watching, and I see the barman pull a frosted bottle out of the fridge and pop a glass on scales.Yep, this is how drinks are measured here – it’s a jigger-free zone. All quantities are decided by weight. I’m served next, and a menu is ripped from a roll in the corner so we can peruse what’s on offer.
So, what does a cocktail list that doesn’t comprise of ice or citrus look like?
Well, there are Hi-Ball Cocktails, Classic Cocktails, Signature Cocktails… over twenty different concoctions to choose from, and all completely unique. Certain options jump out to me – the Rosie Lee, which is tucked into the ‘Tea & Coffee’ section and simply says it contains ‘Mr Lyan Gin’ and ‘Rare Tea Company’. Then there’s the Painted Presidente – Mr Lyan Rum, vermouths, pomegranate paint and grass. Yep, grass. Or I could go for the Bone Dry Martini which is Mr Lyan Vodka and, helpfully, ‘bone’ (I later find out this is dissolved bone calcium, intended to give the drink a mineral-taste)
Actually, I love this kind of thing. Whatever gets ordered is going to be exciting and totally unique. Creativity certainly hasn’t been stifled with the removal of citrus and frozen water, that’s for sure.
I decide to start on the Beeswax Old Fashioned, which apparently includes My Lyan Scotch, sugar, bitters, and beeswax egg. This is suggested to me by the barman, and he shows me the container when he removes it from the fridge – the beeswax lines the actual bottle. He settles a heavy whisky tumbler on the scales and pours out a precise measurement of mellow, golden liquid. There’s not a huge amount in the glass – and no crafty chunks of ice to make it look like there’s loads to go round and therefore it’s okay to take huge sips. This certainly encourages a more restrained approach to sipping.
This is a good thing though, and certainly makes me appreciate the flavours of the drink more. The scotch has been sweetened with honey and there is a lovely rounded flavour that coats my tongue and makes for delicious drinking. It’s the kind of smooth libation you can savour, and the significant alcohol content is mellowed by the balance of delicate, sugary honey.
My drinking partner goes for a Baby Bias, which is Fino Sherry, apricot, bitters, vanilla and olive. A list of ingredients that might not seem to merge in harmony, and yet makes sweet music on the palate. The glass has a tall, elegant stem, and the taste is wonderful – a dryness from the sherry followed by the sweet syrupy hint of apricot, the tang of olive, and then a lingering vanilla hint.
Next I try a Civil Serve – Vemouths, elderflower and blueberry vinegar. This one is very good too, although I wonder if I would have identified all the tastes if I hadn’t know they were there. It’s a bit like drinking wine and convincing yourself of the ‘coffee and red berries’ because you read it. I think I can get a sense of the blueberry – but it’s not an overriding taste.
Next up I go for a White Guinness – whisky, coconut, almond and ash. Obviously I was intrigued as to the ‘ash’ element – it turns out to be burnt leak. This adds a nice smokiness and bit of texture to the otherwise creaminess of this dessert-like cocktail, which I enjoy a lot.
My drinking partner has gone for the Lada Lada – a mixture of tequila, smoke, elderflower and lager syrup. This all sounds extreme and frivolous in equal measures, and we watch as the drink is poured into a cool, space-age looking glass and finished off with sprays of this and that. By now we’re feeling the drinks kick in – this whole lack of ice malarky does make you imbibe a whole lot more, I guess, and we’ve been so eager to try the various concoctions. I remember it having that definite tequila edge to it – an underlying bite that is tempered by the elderflower. Another winner.
So this is the end for our first visit. But I honestly don’t think I would get tired of coming here and experiencing all the drinks. They are unique, mysterious and wonderfully inventive. Also, there’s the fact you don’t have to wait ages to be served.
The finished product is almost like the distilled essence of a perfect cocktail, and it’s a delight to try and taste each flavour without sipping through dregs of ice. Although it might sound like it’s trying to be quirky and different for the sake if it, this is actually a fabulous idea, and I urge any cocktail lover to give it a go.