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Tristan Stephenson’s approach to discovering more with less in a cocktail

A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to eat what may have been the single greatest mouthful of food of my entire life so far.

You’re probably wondering what unique flavour combination could possibly cause me to get so excited, and indeed, write an entire article on it.

Well, it wasn’t a slice of 72-day aged fillet steak. Neither was it a lump of 80% cacao Venezuelan chocolate.

It was in fact a partially dried slice of mango.

It looked like an ear, smelled of very little, but the taste was an epiphany. Luscious and intense tropical fruit notes gave way to an almost inconceivable barrage of floral sweetness, finishing with a palate-coating nutty, dried fruit finish. The texture was amazing too, almost as if it was designed to reward the eater by releasing flavour based on how rigorously you chewed it.

What got me most excited by this tasty morsel was the simplicity of its creation. This flavour had not been engineered by a chef, master-blender or brewer (ok, the fruit grower had a hand to play). Furthermore it hadn’t been seasoned, spiced, infused or atomised with another ingredient. It was from the earth and wholly unadulterated.

Cocktail ingredients - using creatively versus adding more

It seems these days that an original cocktail must be composed of a unique combination of exotic ingredients. One of the likely reasons for this phenomenon is that many cocktail flavours and flavour combinations have been mixed previously. Someone’s already done it so why do it again?

Apple Martini?

Sorry - not interested, it’s been done before.

But perhaps the simplicity of a drink like an Apple Martini, developed with a range of different apples, prepared in different ways, could be result in a more satisfying, complex and even original cocktail than other drinks that claim to be innovative.

Think about the best apple you have ever tasted; the balance of sweetness and acidity and the clean finish that lingers on the palate. Imagine taking all of those elements (and I mean all) and capturing them in a cocktail glass.

Perhaps it’s not possible, but if it is it would undoubtedly be a better drink than any clever flavour combination I can think of.

We have all heard the mantra that fewer ingredients make a better drink. I’m discovering more and more of the best executed cocktails that use only two or three cocktail ingredients, but every ingredient is expertly researched, prepared and incorporated in to the finished drink.

Tristan Stephenson is the co-owner of three of London's top cocktail bars, as well as a keen cocktail historian, pioneer of modernist bartending techniques and amateur flavour scientist.