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Drunk history: taking in cocktails through the ages

Paul Mathew will mix drinks from four different eras at The Mansion in the coming days
Paul Mathew will mix drinks from four different eras at The Mansion in the coming days. Charlotte Pert

Drunk history: taking in cocktails through the ages

Over the next four nights, mixologist and amateur booze historian Paul Mathew will take drinkers on a journey through history in a series of cocktail parties at The Mansion.

The Legendary Cocktail Journey pop-up bar events will offer a perhaps slightly blurry insight into four different time periods, with Mathew mixing up drinks particular to the ’20s and ’30s, ’50s and ’60s, ’80s and ’90s and today.

The concoctions, researched from Mathew’s collection of cocktail books and bar drinks lists going back to the 1870s, include the dark chocolate old fashioned (bourbon, sugar, dark chocolate, chocolate bitters), the penicillin (scotches, absinthe, honey ginger syrup) and a variation on the classic gin and tonic with fresh pomelo and grapefruit bitters.

Mathew said: “In some cases the choice of drinks reflects things that were created in that period, but others are drinks that were simply popular at the time.

“For example the 1980s weren’t a great time for original cocktails, but the daiquiri – originating almost 100 years previously when the engineer Jennings Cox was exploring the Sierra Maestra Mountains around the town of Daiquiri in Cuba – was hugely popular, so we’ve put a retro mango daiquiri on the list.”

Mathew, the owner of London’s Hive Bar and globetrotting freelance cocktail consultant helping bars improve their drinks menus, said cocktail recipes had remained “remarkably consistent” over the years.

“We’re still making drinks like the old fashioned the same way that bartenders were over 100 years ago,” he said.

“Some drinks have a remarkable longevity to them – the mix of rum, lime, mint and sugar for example was being drunk by Sir Francis Drake’s men to cure dysentery and scurvy in 1586. The mojito is still one of the most popular mixed drinks, dysentery and scurvy aside.”

On arrival at The Mansion, each guest will receive a “drink passport” which can be used over the four evenings. Anyone who purchases five drinks will get their sixth free. Mathew said the venue, which is managed by the neighbouring Foreign Correspondents’ Club, was an “amazing space”.

“I think it really lends itself to quietly sipping a cocktail whilst taking in its faded glamour,” he said. “There aren’t many places like that left in the world – especially not in the centre of a capital city, so it’s a great opportunity to do something fun.

“I hope people will just enjoy the space and enjoy the drinks – perhaps try something they wouldn’t normally consider ordering, although anyone is welcome to come and have a beer too. It’s just an opportunity to have a drink somewhere different really – a bit of fun.”

Out of the whole history of cocktails, Mathew said the past 10 years have been some of the best for bartending with creativity, passion, professionalism, competition and access to hundreds of years of knowledge available through the internet.

However, he said the 1920s and 1930s was another period of creativity and “enthusiastic drinking”.

One of Mathew’s favourite books from the period is Charles H. Baker’s The Gentleman’s Companion, published in 1939, in which Baker details drinks such as the corpse reviver – normally taken in the morning after a heavy night of boozing – which is accompanied by the footnote “should be taken in quick succession to revive the corpse”.

“I think he would have been a splendid chap to have a drink with but perhaps not someone you would want to hang around with a long time,” Mathew said.

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