Tim Etherington-Judge, the brand ambassador for Johnnie Walker & Diageo Reserve and “cocktail geek”, was in town to promote Ron Zacapa, a 23-year-old rum from Guatemala, at a rum-and-food pairing at The Bridge at The Park. A t2 chat...
You’ve got ‘ether’ in your surname and your Twitter handle is @gingerbitters! Just how spirited are you?!
(Laughs) I love this industry. I don’t actually have a job here. Somebody just pays me to do what I love!
How easy or difficult is pairing cocktails with food as compared to wine?
Actually cocktails are ideal for pairing with food. Wines and single malts offer a limited portfolio of flavours to pair with. With cocktails, there is no limitation. In many ways, it’s easier to pair food and cocktails. You could pick classic flavour combinations like citrus and fish, or something with body like bourbon or aged rum like Zacapa with meat.
What’s your favourite cocktail-and-food pairing?
It’s almost impossible to pick a favourite cocktail though the ones that will always be a part of my drinking vocabulary are like Martini or Manhattan and some slightly obscure classics not so well-known like the 20th Century (cocktail) made with gin, lemon juice, Lillet Blanc and chocolate liqueur. I’m vegetarian so I’d probably pair it with fresh New Zealand asparagus with garlic and butter.
Normally, a premier alcohol such as Ron Zacapa or an aged whisky is not used in cocktails. Your views?
I have had this argument with many, many, many people. I created this cocktail in India called the Blue Manhattan which is Johnnie Walker Blue Label, vermouth and angostura bitters… it’s essentially a Rob Roy made with Johnnie Walker. And many people come up to me and say you can’t use Blue Label in a cocktail; it’s far too expensive, far too good to be ruined by a cocktail; it should be savoured on its own. That’s utter rubbish. Can you ever imagine a chef saying that the ingredient he’s given is far too good for him to cook with? If you want a great cocktail, you need great ingredients to create the base.
A lot of bartenders are going back to classic old cocktails. Is it that we aren’t innovating or are cocktail trends cyclical, like fashion?
The great thing about the cocktail trend globally is that we have reached a maturity level with no single trend. These days, they are about specialising in either classic cocktails, or modern cocktails, or rum or tequila or gin cocktails… that is everyone specialises in individual things. The cocktail scene in India that way is still in a very nascent stage. When I moved to India three years ago, the only way I could get a drink was to make it myself. Now, there are a number of bars across the country from The Table (though you could say that I’m a little bit biased because I wrote the cocktail programme for them) to Arola in JW Marriott and Ellipsis, all in Mumbai. In Delhi, there’s PCO, which is a proper original-style speakeasy that makes amazing drinks and Calcutta is getting better and better.
Any chance of bringing your pop-up bar to Calcutta like you did with the Bombay Cocktail Club?
I would love to bring it here. I did it in Delhi. Let’s see if someone’s interested in doing it here. I’m open to it.
Any celebrities you remember serving?
(Pauses) Liz Hurley. I made her a Mojito. I had Sachin Tendulkar at the bar but he didn’t drink anything but water. Priyanka Chopra too… but I don’t remember what cocktail she had. I met a lot of cricketers during the IPL season. I remember Adam Gilchrist was at the bar and I made him… a beer (smiles). He’s a really nice guy.
What would be the best way to drink Ron Zacapa?
I really enjoy it neat. It’s such a full-flavoured complex rum. There’s so much going into the glass with flavours like chocolate, coffee, vanilla, cinnamon and orange peel. It’s aged in four different types of barrels, each of which give it a different flavour.
What’s the most unusual cocktail you’ve created?
In India, it would be the Rasam Mary that I created for Vivanta by Taj. I created a cocktail for each of the cities and this was for Chennai. A friend invited me to lunch and I had what I now know as rasam and it was beautiful. It lends an amazing Indian twist to the Bloody Mary, it has all that a Bloody Mary has, in one premixed liquid but with an Indian spin. That’s how Rasam Mary was born… with Ketel One vodka and lashings of rasam.
Favourite liquor: At the moment whisky. Johnnie Walker Platinum Label 18
Best way to have it: Neat
Favourite Indian food: Dal Makhni at ITC Maurya, though it’s called Dal Bukhara there
Four essentials in a home bar: Good equipment, good but simple selection of alcohol, good quality ice and passion for few drinks
Timate hangover cure: Coconut water
Three things that make a great bartender: Personality, passion and being a people-person
If you opened your own bar, what would you call it? Statler & Waldorf after the two grumpy muppets
Best F&B app you’ve come across: The Difford’s Guide
SIP & BITE
Chef Sharad Dewan and his team at The Park put up a perfect pairing, even using the flavours of the Ron Zacapa rum in a few dishes. Here are some from the seven-course dinner spread
Pictures by Rashbehari Das