London bar’s quest for the best

22nd September, 2011 by Alan Lodge

A new bar concept opens in London next month promising a stripped-back spirit offering of just one product per category, representing “the best of the best”.

LTD@The Social is a three month collaboration between bar consultant Dre Masso and Eric Yu, managing director of The Breakfast Group.

The pair decided that London cocktail drinkers needed an accessible selection of spirits, selected purely on the basis of quality rather than brand power.

“I’m not saying it’s wrong to have 20 gins,” remarked Yu. “We’re just trying to get a balance. There’s a whole plethora of choice that’s way beyond public understanding – there should be an alternative based on quality rather than marketing theatre.”

The spirit for each category was decided by a committee of drinks industry experts, including Henry Besant, Salvatore Calabrese and Peter Dorelli.

Each was carefully selected to make sure there were no brand ambassadors or otherwise affiliated individuals.

Judges were asked to nominate up to five products per category, which were then whittled down to the three with most recommendations.

These finalists were blind-tasted both neat and mixed with a simple lemon juice and cane sugar cocktail before the judges cast a final vote to decide the winner.

Several respected brands failed this flexibility test, as Yu recalled: “Often the one that was best neat didn’t taste best in a cocktail.”

The main limitation of the project’s scope was the £20 wholesale bottle price upper limit imposed, a restriction which excluded many of the super-premium examples.

However, the pair defended this decision as part of their concern to keep the selection accessible, a point further emphasised by the six classic cocktails chosen to show off each spirit.

Masso stressed the importance of listing drinks: “Every bartender should know how to make and every consumer should be aware of”.

In addition he explained: “The beauty with classic cocktails is that they’re very simple, they don’t have many ingredients so they show off the spirit.”

As a more creative flourish, Masso has also designed six cocktails which he promises will be unique to LTD.

The results, unveiled in October’s issue of the drinks business, were a pleasing mix of big names and lower key industry favourites.

However, Masso accepted the potentially controversial effect of using a large committee, saying: “It was very difficult for a niche product to win.”

Using this initial selection as a base, the pair are now considering an extension of the project into higher price points.

“This is your desert island list based on price point,” commented Masso. “The next thing is to add another £20 onto each bottle price. It would be really sensible for a bar to have an entry level and then a top shelf option.”

LTD@The Social runs from 1 October until the end of the year. During this period it will host regular events, including cocktail classes, a “Behind Bars” photo exhibition and a series of Desert Island Discs-inspired nights, when big industry names will talk guests through their personal selection of songs.

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