Bristol Cocktail Scene – Alive & Kicking!

Bristol Cocktail Scene – Alive & Kicking!
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1dc3cb522d530eb35ad94e59d60ba392“The Bristol cocktail scene is very alive. It’s strength comes from the generous attitudes of the bartenders. Everyone is more than happy to share their ideas with other cocktail bars. Rather than a rivalry, there’s a backbone of enormous support, and help is always just around the corner, or behind the bar.”

Having been in Bristol for several years now, I have been lucky enough to witness the blooming of the cocktail scene. Where once the best of the city’s offerings were a few mainstream bars offering classics and high speed Mojitos, and bartenders only made a name for themselves after migrating east to the shining lights of the capital; now we play host to a wide selection of independent, original cocktail bars which are home to some very high-achieving bartenders, such as Milk Thistle’s Richard Tring: Global Winner of the 2012 Appleton Estate cocktail competition.


As an award winning bartender yourself, what do you think of Bristol’s representation in competitions, before, now, and in the future?

   “I think Bristol has always done itself proud in competitions, now and in the past. We have the problem that many cities have, in that we are always haemorrhaging our best staff to the capital (or Australia!). This means we have to constantly encourage our less experienced bartenders to take part in competitions which is good for them, but means we can sometimes feel like a feeder town to London. It can be very frustrating to people who, like me, have chosen Bristol as our city for the foreseeable future.”


ce473622e9527eb59e6bcf0496d671efWhat was it like, from a professional point of view, moving back to the south west after working in some of the best bars in London?

When I was in London I used to spend a lot of time hanging out and drinking in bars in the Match Bar Group (now Rushmore Group) as I worked for them. The staff all got on well and there was a sense of friendly rivalry between the bars in the group. When I moved to Bristol it felt as if all the cocktail bars were part of one group, the bartenders all knew each other and went drinking together, but competed against each other. If anything I think this is the key thing that defines the Bristol cocktail scene, friendly rivalry, we all genuinely want to see each other do well, but we also all want to win!”

Richard is not the only person to return after time away. Danny Walker, now the Zacapa and Tanqueray ambassador in the area, has been back and forth to Bristol several times, during which he has had a huge influence on the scene. While managing the Rummer Hotel several years ago he set up the Midnight Cocktail Club:

“We set up the MCC in Bristol to bring the industry closer together both professionally and socially, a monthly event to get bartenders in to the same room sharing ideas. I also set it up to create a cocktail competition run by bartenders and peer-judged to encourage new bartenders to get involved without a high pressure environment.”

Papajis House of Teas BristolBristol has a great positive vibe and it’s the bartenders in the city and their camaraderie and support of each other that has made the Bristol cocktail scene the unstoppable force that it is. Bristol punches well above it’s weight in the UK cocktail scene and it’s something that makes me very proud to be part of the industry in this great city.”

Of course, when it comes down to it, the most important thing is the cocktails themselves, and the Bristol cocktail scene has something for everyone. However, I think what makes Bristol special is how unusual some of the bars, and their drinks, are. For example, we have a bar that specialises in cocktails using tea (with a vast selection of different loose-leaf varieties, the options are endless), a prohibition-era bar making distinctly modern drinks (using techniques such as barrel ageing, smoking etc), Germanic bars, bars with DJs, bars that sell burgers, and bars that have award-winning fine dining chefs.  I spoke to Andy Dodd (owner of Papaji’s Bar, Kitchen and Teasmiths) and Mark Scott (bar manager of Hyde & Co) to ask them about how they came up with the inspiration for their bars, and what makes them special.

Papajis House of Teas BristolAndy Dodd’s interest in using tea as a cocktail ingredient began in 2004 after winning a Bombay Sapphire competition with an Earl Grey Martini. It is a “clean and crisp mixer, full of antioxidants, and of course some caffeine“.

When the concept was born the selection and quality of tea in our cafés and restaurants was shocking. As a nation we drink more tea per person than any other, but we also drink the worst quality tea. Spend some time in a French city and you will find lots of Salon de Thé, serving amazing teas properly (with infusers or brewed for you with the correct water temperature, and not just leaves chucked into a pot). Thankfully since then we now have places like Lahloo and even Boston have upped their game. So many more places have seen the light and are now serving proper tea. Most still aren’t serving it correctly, but I think with time and operators’ understanding that training is required, that will come.”

“From there I’ve started doing my own cold infusions, so we [Papaji’s Bar, Kitchen and Teasmiths] have  Plymouth infused with Earl Grey for our Earl Grey Sour, and Maker’s Mark with a vanilla rooibos for our Red Tea Old Fashioned. Also lots of hot ones using lemon & ginger sencha with sake & stones ginger wine, Turkish apple tea with Kamm & sons.

Mark Scott was brought in to run Hyde & Co in the bar’s opening months and has had a huge influence on the direction in which the bar has developed.


Hyde & Co 2What is it that you feel makes Hyde & Co special?

“At Hyde we are simply trying to give people an experience, from the moment you enter the bar to the point you decide to leave. Our menu is a selection of in-house creations designed to give the drinker something different, something they would not have tried before – whether that’s a smoked drink to share with friends or a blackberry liqueur sour with a touch of smokey mescal and topped with local cider. We want people to come in, relax and just enjoy themselves. Its not rocket science; we are not trying to do anything spectacular. We want to keep it simple while using interesting, unusual flavour combinations.”

When asked how they felt about the Bristol cocktail bar scene as a whole, Richard Tring said that Bristol has some fantastic cocktail bars (although it still has space for more!), some wonderful pubs, great new independent restaurants and cafes, but I think we really miss party bars that do cocktails well. We need more bars like Trailer Happiness or The Player, where you can get a great drink in a less formal environment. It will happen.” 

Andy Dodd emphasized the “great ratio of great cocktail  bars to population considering we are the 11th biggest city in the UK with a population of 500,000”.

Mark Scott pointed out that “customers, without whom none of us would have a job, seem to be enjoying themselves as well. Bars are as busy as ever and people are experimenting more with what they are drinking; there is an appreciation for quality over quantity.”

Annie Mason




Written by Guest Author

Posted: March 27, 2013