Spirited away: on the trail of the Liquorists

Louise Bolotin

The Manchester based mixologists taking the pub crawl to epicurean levels.

The stereotypical image of the pub crawl – lurching from one hostelry to the next with the sole aim of getting drunk – is dead. Manchester’s Liquorists have banished the beer and elevated bar hopping to specialist level, bringing sophistication, knowledge and food-matching into the experience. And with two seasonal trails looming, plus their freshly launched pop-up bars The Kowloon Correspondents Club and Reserve, this is the perfect time to check out Manchester’s hippest bartenders.

The Liquorists – Tom Sneesby and Jody Monteith – have been running specialist trails for a couple of years now, each featuring a specific spirit such as whisky, gin or rum. They take small groups out to half a dozen hostelries in the city centre where they get to sample one drink in each bar, learn about the history and different methods of production and enjoy matching foods.

We went on the rum trail earlier this year, which began in the Liquorists’ base in the Green Quarter, which recently acquired a full licence. #22 Redbank is an unprepossessing railway arch lock-up from the outside, but the interior is a Victoriana delight. Here, we enjoyed goat curry with rice and peas. This was a necessary stomach buffer for the evening ahead: there was a neat shot at every venue, followed by a cocktail.

This is the perfect time to check out Manchester’s hippest bartenders

Monteith, our Liquorist for the night, talked us through the three main types of the spirit in question – English rum, Spanish ron and French rhum – while serving us our first cocktail. Then he whisked us off to sample more elsewhere, with carefully matched gourmet canapés as accompaniment. In between destinations, we learned about Manchester’s links to the rum trade: when asked to look up, we spotted stone pineapples decorating gables. Apparently, this spiky fruit was a symbol of wealth for the Manchester merchants who made their fortunes importing rum’s base ingredient – sugar cane. It was a fun, genteely boozy evening. The Liquorist trails are a great opportunity to get to know a tipple in detail and meet interesting people. They are also very good value, with tickets starting at £30.

With the holidays looming, the Liquorists are running two special trails to suit the season. The Seasonal Christmas Trail promises to offer a sassy alternative to the office party, starting with a proper punch and followed by bespoke cocktails and canapés. They’re not revealing where participants will be visiting but history, facts and anecdotes are sure to be included. As yet, there are few specific details for the black tie New Year’s Eve Trail, but Sneesby and Monteith are promising to spirit revellers away in luxury transport to four different venues to sample six types of food and drink, ending with champagne at midnight.

On a mission to revive the cocktail hour, The Kowloon Correspondents Club in Barton Arcade (open Thursday to Saturday between now and Christmas) is a classy pop-up bar specialising in Belvedere vodka cocktails, decorated like a 1930s Hong Kong mansion. True to form, the Liquorists are offering masterclasses in making cocktails and sampling vodkas, plus a private “chef’s table” for learning the art of the martini. Impressively, the Liquorists have made all the cocktail ingredients at Kowloon – which include infusions of lemon tea, rhubarb and ginger syrup, and basil cordial – themselves. Here, we sampled the Rifle of the Raj – a potent and fragrant blend of vodka, gunpowder tea, lemon verbena and ginger ale – and the Kowloon Bay, pleasingly flavoured with grapefruit and cucumber.

Over at the Reserve, a spirit store and tasting house pop-up on King Street, you can book one of the Liquorists’ “sauce sessions”: like their trails, these focus on a particular spirit but without the bar hopping. There are more signature cocktail masterclasses and Reserve also has an off-licence on the ground floor selling high-end spirits. Both pop-up bars are open between now and New Year’s Eve. Whether you choose to pay a visit or book a place on one of the Liquorist’s trails, make sure not to miss this unusual way to fill a long winter’s evening.

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