I spend as much time as I can in grocery stores sourcing seasonal fruit or in botanists smelling jars with dried herbs, no matter where I am. If you choose, you can live in a world led by aroma and the discoveries are endless. When I am in a foreign city, it's the street smells, local fruit stores and gardens that inspire me and tell a hidden story of a city.
With the likes of MasterChef and that well-known character Jamie Oliver, the herbs and spices used to enhance your dishes are becoming all to common in the home kitchen. It's now becoming more and more prominent to grow your own, whether it's in the garden with an allotted patch or on your windowsill in a little pot.
To complement this, fresh seasonal fruit is playing an important part of our drinks. Back in 2004 'fresh' and 'seasonal' were the buzzwords and very evident on most cocktail lists around the world. We travelled through a classic era into 2012 and we're finally seeing the classics world merge with fresh, seasonal and aromatic - all in one glass with greater independent innovation being presented.
These are exciting times as we evolve into a comfort level that is broadly accepted. One highly esteemed drink professional commented to me the other day that he can finally go to a bar anywhere in the world and generally enjoy the drink put in front of him without too much fanfare.
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Avant-garde has its place in fashion and that approach travels all the way down to food and drink. Fine dining is less prevalent and we're all looking for more comfortable places to hang out. While we're still paying attention to the produce and service, we're more conscious of our pockets.
A recent survey found that 73 per cent of cocktails are now consumed at home. This is a huge statistic, however, a realistic one - and one that I totally embrace. The passionate cook is now becoming the avid home bartender and with this comes domestic experimentation.
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This can be applied to the simplest of serves like a gin and tonic by experimenting with the garnish - I naturally prefer vermouth and tonic. Gin is made from aromatics and these can be anything from lemongrass, rosemary, orange, lemon or kaffir lime, thus, within reason when you make your gin and tonic, if you add a squeeze of lemon and sprig of rosemary, you're on the way to making a variation of the renowned classic the Tom Collins. If it's fresh and herbaceous, I don't think you can really go wrong with what you add. The Spanish have totally embraced this and most bars have six to 10 variations on the gin and tonic on their list.
As you move into aged spirits that have a golden or barrel aged finish, you start to pick up spicier notes like cinnamon, clove, star anise, bunt orange, cherries and figs - and you can't go wrong by adding a hint of any of these to the drink. Most brands are now using this fresh, seasonal or aromatic produce to communicate their brand, thus with a little research you may even surprise yourself with your own creation and a mint sprig hanging out of the glass.
Ninety per cent of taste comes from smell, so don't be afraid to play around with any of these by adding them to your favourite tipple next time you mix.