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Bitter and Twisted Results - Noel Jackson

March 10, 2010 by John Collingwood

Bitter and Twisted Results – Noel Jackson

On February 25th in Newcastle, five of the best mixologists decended to Popolo, whose sole aim was to develop the best Bitter & Twisted cocktail, using Northumberland’s very own, Jack Cains Gin.

One of the judges, Noel Jackson, explains the reasoning behind the winning creation and a little background about the competition.

Even the most primitive animals can detect salt and sour tastes . Way back in evolutionary time, our distant ancestors were aquatic and these senses made them able to avoid acidic water from volcanic vents and stay in water of the correct salinity.

The abilities to taste sweet and umami are much more recent acquisitions. the receptor proteins are similar to the light-detecting protein rhodopsin which is found in invertebrate eyes. Bitter taste is even more complicated and appears to be more recent again in our evolutionary heritage.

I’m not suggesting for one moment that liking a Negroni is sign of evolution to a higher plain but it is clear that bitter tastes are a key ingredient in all the more sophisticated cocktails.

We have at least 28 different bitter taste receptors and each of these can be stimulated by at least two different taste chemicals. This means that it is possible to have several different distinct bitter tastes in the mouth.

Think about Gin and Tonic where one gets completely different bitter tastes from the quinine and from the juniper. In theory we could have even more layers but each bitter chemical (apart from strychnine) can fire up at least two different taste receptors so there is no scientific basis on which we can select ingredients to achieve this. It’s all down to experimentation.

The mixologists of Newcastle worked hard to explore this uncharted territory, perhaps enticed by the prize of a mini cruise tom Amsterdam provided by DFDS seaways. The bartenders knew that, unlike in commercial competitions, the judging would all be based on taste and that no amount of flaring, juggling or other leger de main would influence the result.

Euan Halliday, Popolo

He explored the bitterness of chocolate in his Maverick Storm Flip. When he started with an egg and added mascarpone cheese and Mozart liqueur, Euan impressed the scientists in the audience with his slinky explanation of what happens when you shake an egg in a cocktail.

I thought I would be eating a chocolate mousse but the addition of Gin and Xocolatl Mole bitters produced a superbly smooth drink with a lovely bitter chocolate after taste. Euan added a little extra touch by rinsing the glass with Laphroaig before serving. This added nothing to the taste but did give the drink a great smoky nose. Superb cocktail but still only one level of bitterness

Marcus Hinkley, Floritas

He had the great idea of exploring Gooseberry in Maverick + Goose = Top Gin. Gooseberries grow wild in Northumbria and the most important commercial variety was bred by Whinham’s of Morpeth. Unfortunately gooseberries are seasonal, so Marcus had to make do with gooseberry jam.

He then added marmalade and orange bitters to get a bitter taste. The preserves meant that this was quite sweet and would be the one most likely to find favour with those who don’t drink cocktails regularly. I hope that Marcus takes his ideas further and look forward to a full blow gooseberry gin combination in the future.

Matt Hitchen, Popolo

He produced an entry of great style and panache. He rooted his ideas in the regions roman heritage and noted that the Latin for bitter was absinthium, the name he gave to his cocktail.

He bent the rules to include 9 ingredients marrying the gin with Kummel, containing bitter carvones from caraway and pomegranate. He also introduced the Ugli fruit as source of unusual citrus flavours.

By then there was no stopping him as he added further bitterings with lavender sugar, rhubarb bitters, Campari, orange bitters, and absinthe. It was a bravura performance topped up with a quote from Hamlet as he added a sprig of “ rosemary for remembrance.” The result was heavy and complex. One I hope to drink again, this time more slowly.

Peter Neilsen, Six @ Baltic

The winner, by a short head, was the Libero.

Peter deconstructed the Negroni to arrive at his fresh-tasting creation which combined the juniper notes of gin with the rhubarb/herbal tastes of Aperol. Peter’s finishing touch and the third distinct level of bitterness with a rim of home-made Campari dust on the rim. This has now been formally renamed as the Bitter and Twisted.

So if you would like to demonstrate your discerning palette, why not pop along to Popolo, Floritas or Six and ask for one by name. Peter’s creation will be included in my Bitter and Twisted cocktail talk at the centre for Life during national Science Week for further details.

Alternatively, with the recipes below, you could have a go at making them for yourself,

Bitter and Twisted (formerly Libero)

50ml Jack Cains gin
12.5ml Aperol
20ml lemon juice
12.5ml gomme syrup

Campari dust rimmed glass
Flamed orange zest


50ml Jack Cains Gin
10ml Kummel
10ml pama Pomegranite liqueur
20ml Ugli juice
Barspoon lavender sugar
2 dash orange bitters
1 dash rhubarb bitters
1 dash Campari
1 dash Absinthe

Rosemary for garnish


45ml jack Cains Gin
20 Mozart Chocolate liqueurs
2 dashes Bitter Truth Xocolatl Mole bitters
1 whole egg
2 barspoons mascarpone cheese
Rinse glass with Laphroaig

Dust with grated nutmeg, 85% dark chocolate and ground pepper.

Sloe ‘n’ ’Steady

35ml Jack Cain’s Gin
12.5ml Butternut squash puree
50ml bitter lemon
Orange squeeze
Lemon squeeze

Serve with a lick of popping candy