It’s no secret that one of the most compelling cocktail bars in London right now leaves behind many of the conventions we have come to expect in our drinks. At White Lyan, in the Hoxton district of London, you might not be able to order a standard lime rickey, but you can have one with green apple, wormwood and dandelion. If you want a Sazerac, they have one called the Moby Dick that incorporates ambergris; an alluring, musky scent only produced in the linings of a whale’s gut. Their frothy drinks are made from coconut milk, not egg whites and the bar has no ice, citrus or garnishes on display.
Amazingly, these peculiar facets are not the result of a desire to produce the world’s most pretentious cocktail bar — far from it. Led by barman Ryan Chetiyawardana, the creation of each cocktail happens long before a patron enters the bar, and since none of these drinks are perishable, the result is that they are simply poured into a chilled glass when ordered. After years of research and experimentation, Chetiyawardana has reinvented the processes for achieving the flavor profiles of cocktails, while also striving for absolute consistency and pushing with boundaries of what’s possible aromatically.
One standout, the Magnus Reserve, incorporates a process akin to Port production. The bar’s Robin Honhold explains that "this drink was created to focus on Highland Park 12-year and inspired simply by a Rob Roy, but pulling the ingredients apart and putting them together in a different manner.”
Rather than simply pouring out Scotch, vermouth and bitters to achieve the classic Rob Roy, this drink starts with the production of house gooseberry wine from fermented jam, then fortifying the wine with Highland Park 12-year to stop the fermentation. The mixture then ages for a week and is filtered to remove the yeast before adding a red fruit and hibiscus tea to bring down the ABV and add berry aroma and tannic structure. The result, dispensed from a tap system typically used for wine, could almost be mistaken for a delicately fortified rosé, but its perplexing aromatics and complexity ultimately leaves one delightfully confounded as to what they are experiencing.
Thankfully, for all of White Lyan’s incredible technique, science, abstract ingredients and sophisticated creations, the bar's appearance and feel remains as unassuming and unpretentious as one could ever hope; with the added benefit of a downstairs dance venue for your enjoyment. As for making this drink at home, don’t count on it unless you plan on producing your own wine or can otherwise decipher the meticulous production secrets Chetiyawardana has honed over the years. According to the barman, for now, "some things have to remain mum."
- 2 parts Highland Park 12 Year Old Scotch
- 3 parts gooseberry wine
- 1 part red fruit tea
- In advance, ferment your own gooseberry wine and add 2 parts Highland Park whiskey once the desired gravity, or relative density compared to water, is reached.
- Let rest with yeast for one week, then filter before adding 1 part (comparative to the original gooseberry wine) of red fruit tea for flavoring.
- Store in bottle before serving in a chilled cognac glass. No garnish.
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