The Alchemist: A sneak peak at Edinburgh’s new cocktail bar

The Alchemist, Edinburgh’s newest cocktail bar, gives drinks blogger Peter Ranscombe a sneak peak at its libations.

ONE of the most interesting elements of reviewing wines, beers, and spirits for Scottish Field magazine has been the opportunity to explore the drinks scene over the border in the North of Englandshire.

Visiting Manchester, Newcastle, and Leeds for wine tastings has introduced me to some interesting bars in all three cities.

One of the best came via friend and fellow drinks writer Mike Turner, who took me to The Alchemist on New York Street in Manchester.

The chain opens an outlet tonight at the new St James Quarter in Edinburgh, its first in Scotland and 20th in the UK.

The new venue is just a stone’s throw from the excellent Bonnie & Wild food hall, which features stalls run by some of Scotland’s top chefs.

I don’t normally get excited about chain bars opening, but The Alchemist is a wee bit different.

Cutting through all the marketing spin for the Edinburgh branch about magic, witches, and “molecular mixology”, what’s impressed me most at the Manchester site over the past few years has been the high level of service and attention to detail.

Although cocktails are the chain’s stock in trade, the food has always hit a high standard too, including the classic “chicken in a basket”, spruced up with miso corn and hickory barbecue sauce.

While Edinburgh is already spoiled for choice when it comes to local cocktail bars – from Panda & Sons and Mothership’s trio of Bramble, Lucky Liquor, and The Last Word Cocktail Saloon through to the plethora on George Street – if chains can attract other visitors to the city who then go on to explore its wide range of venues then they certainly have a place in the mix.

Plus, if The Alchemist can replicate the same high level of service in Edinburgh that it offers in Manchester then that will make its new venue truly magical.

What do The Alchemist’s cocktails taste like?

A sneaky preview of two of the cockails from The Alchemist gave me a flavour of what’s to come from the site.

Each cocktail has a two-letter or -number symbol, mimicking the labels for the elements in chemistry’s periodic table.

S1: Smoky Old Fashioned
That classic mix of smoke, honey-like sweetness, and caramel on the nose, leading into a bit sweet and smoky hit on the palate. The right level of diluation helps to keep it fresh and stop the blend of Buffalo Trace bourbon, maple syrup, Jerry Thomas bitters, and “smoke” from becoming too cloying. A really solid interpretation of a classic.

Dz: Dead Red Zombie
Fusing together Bacardi Carta Blanca rum, Wray & Nephew white overproof rum, and Grand Marnier, with lime, pineapple, cranberry, “Zombie mix”, and more “smoke”, the Dead Red Zombie’s pale pink colour and sweet, fruit nose are really appealing. There’s a great balance between the sweeter and fresher flavours, while the smoke isn’t overpowering. What’s most impressive though is the silky, unctuous texture.

Read more of Peter’s wine, beer, and spirits reviews on his drinks blog, The Grape & The Grain