Aspall Cyder - Cider and Vinegar

#ShrubItUp - heat 4, Manchester

27th June 2016


​It was only on landing at Elixir on Deansgate – our hosts for the evening - and being asked how often I came to Manchester, that I realised it was damned nearly a decade since I last had. My liaisons with the city have been very few and far between – sadly so.

One of my fellow guests that evening – also an infrequent visitor – said that the opening credits of Coronation Street sprang to mind every time he thought of Manchester. Which, as we agreed, seriously does it a disservice.

We all like a bit of nostalgia, but to cement the city for the vast majority of the rest of the population into a 1950’s pastiche timewarp is unjust in the extreme. I will confess to not actually watching Corrie, so if I did, I may learn that in fact it is a modern pacey style of soap that throws light on Manchester in a very 21st century way, and it’s therefore me being unjust in the extreme to a fine piece of televisual drama. Then again….
Riding through the streets after disembarking from Manchester Piccadilly, the city displays plenty of old and new. I have always loved the architecture of cities like Manchester; built on textile money, the redbrick frontages and scale of many of the buildings express a serious intent; and then there is the modern glass and stainless steel poking up above the skyline and between the older ladies and gents that have been resident so long. To me, it shouts “look at our past and look at our future” in equal measures. There is always great drama in conflict, and I find Manchester an engagingly dramatic city.

Gaelle of Imbibe and I both felt a pang of sadness that this would be our final heat on the road. 

But what sort of drama would await us in Elixir? Gaelle of Imbibe and I both felt a pang of sadness that this would be our final heat on the road. It has been a great trip, and whilst the cry from our very own mc was whether the best was being saved until last here, we were simply delighted we still had one more heat to go. And it wasn’t just about Manchester, entrants from Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Leeds were also in our midst.

The shrubs they brought were inventive and skilfully executed; we had pomegranate basil and grape, lemon and oat – a stand out, apple and ginger, blueberry and brioche, beetroot and mint, and finally a guacamole shrub – a very intriguing mix.

Joining us on the judging panel was Frankie from Elixir; once again a fabulously genial and welcoming host. It was great to chat with him through the event and in his questions and remarks remind myself of how eye-opening the inventiveness of these mixologists is and has been for the whole competition.

The field was more open than the previous round in London, the judges all having particular favourites that didn’t make it on to the others’ top 3. I guess there is always an element of following your favourite style of drink, and throughout the competition we have actually remained neutral on that score. In fact, all scores were consistently high in this round, hence the lack of consistency in our respective top 3’s. However, there was one person who we all 3 acknowledged as the leader of the pack – guacamole man, aka Cieran Russell from The Tippling House in Aberdeen. And the only man who opened his presentation with a rap.

Quite apart from his unusual – and extremely well balanced – shrub, he integrated it expertly into his cocktail. 25ml of the shrub was mixed with 40ml Tequila, 15ml yellow Chartreuse, 5ml Vyle liqueur, 40ml Pink Grapefruit, plus an egg white – all of which had both a dry and a wet shake and was served in a crystal stemmed glass. We liked his presentation too – the cocktail glass coming in a ‘treasure chest’, complete with dry ice overflowing from it.

The cocktail itself had a super green avocado aroma; it was sweet with a good balancing acidity and had a creamy very full body. This creaminess went on and on, and gave a great balanced long, long finish. Inventive and delicious.

And so our #shrubitup road trip was concluded. We have the excitement now of the final at Imbibe Live in July – and a wild card to pick from the heats. But as my train pulled out of Manchester Piccadilly the next morning, I couldn’t help but feel a sadness that this part of the journey was at and end. Or perhaps that was just Manchester – I’d better go back and test the theory.