Covid cocktail culture: pour yourself a wee ‘Quarantini’

Peter Ranscombe dusts off his cocktail shaker to put the ‘Quarantini’ drinks box from Keep Edinburgh Thriving through its paces.

IN YEARS to come, we’ll all look back on 2020 and ask each other one question: “Do you remember the last drink you had in a bar before lockdown began?”

For me, it was a coast to coast cocktail at The Last Word Saloon in Edinburgh, during the early hours of Sunday 15 March.

Its mix of Talisker 10-year-old Highland single malt whisky, orange bitters, and the Last Word’s own shipwreck bitters was the ideal way to say goodbye to friends after a night out in nearby Smith & Gertrude.

How long will it be before we can gather in bars again?

I’ll let that question hang there for a moment.

In the meantime though, Scotland’s resourceful bartenders have come up with ingenious ways for us to enjoy their cocktails at home.

Back in April, Robbie Allen launched Keep Edinburgh Thriving, which sells gift boxes containing goods from local businesses, ranging from chocolate and coffee through to face masks and lip balms.

Last month Allen added “Quarantini” boxes to his selection, featuring ready-mixed cocktails made by bars including Hey Palu, Tonic, and The Mad Hatter.

Cans from Bellfield Brewery and Edinburgh Beer Factory also feature in the boxes, along with retro pick-and-mix sweets from The Little Parlour.

The small box (£39) contains three cocktails and two beers, while the large one (£55) consists of five cocktails and two beers.

Buyers can add a mini cocktail shaker to their pack for an extra fiver.

The ready-mixed cocktails come in sealed pouches, which make them extremely easy to handle, with each pouch printed with clear serving instructions – or “serve” instructions if you want to abandon the English language completely and join the drinks marketing industry in its quest to turn us all into Americans.

The taste test

The Bellfield Brewery Craft Lager is still up to scratch with its fresh lemon and more savoury lemon rind flavours and its bitter finish; it brough back happy memories of the opening of its tap room in Edinburgh last September.

I’m a hard man to please when it comes to a cocktail, but the Tonic Starburst Martini hit the spot with its fruitiness and the texture from the egg white – don’t be put off by its lurid red colour.

Similarly, the Hey Palu Banana Daiquiri was very much a Ronseal cocktail and did “exactly what it said on the tin”, with the dried pieces of banana in the bag adding a nice touch.

My favourite cocktail in the box was the Old Poison Distillery Coffee Orange Negroni – I wouldn’t normally pick a coffee mixture, but the spicy clove notes on the nose were enticing and the mocha and chocolate flavours were well-balanced by spicy heat, making it very grown-up and moreish.

The Buck & Birch Caramel Espresso Martini offered similar flavours, but its coffee notes were much richer and deeper, with sweeter caramel flavours and a milk chocolate note on the finish.

It was fresh rather than cloying, demonstrating Buck & Birch’s skill in producing ready-mixed cocktails in wee jars.

While my kitchen may lack the roaring fire of The Last Word, the frozen margaritas of The Basement or the magic wands of The Cauldron, the “Quarantini” cocktails brought a bit of glamour into a lockdown weekend – and made me think it’s perhaps time to dust off that dinner jacket again

Read more of Peter Ranscombe’s reviews on his drinks blog, The Grape & The Grain.