Merchants of yesteryear traveled on ships to the far corners of the globe, seeking exotic plants, animals and wares to bring back home. Hordes of ships were dedicated solely to searching for things such as spices and coffee and their crew, to stave off the boredom and the sickness inherent in months at sea, drank the fortified wines and alcohols, including gin, stocked in onboard barrels.
If they had the gin, coffee and spices on board, the sailors certainly didn’t have the time or the patience to make the carefully crafted cocktail that Merchant House, which houses one of London’s largest gin and rum collections, has created.
It sounds easy enough - spiced gin, coffee and syrup, like an espresso martini - but the experts of Merchant House take it several steps further.
Firstly, they spice their own gin in-house. Working closely with renowned distiller, Jamie Baxter, Merchant House developed a recipe with secret ingredients - no doubt brought on ship from the four corners of the Earth - to find the exact spiced combinations and flavours they sought to act as the base for the Merchant.
Next, they add their own cold-brewed coffee. If you’re envisioning the iced coffee with which we’re all familiar, banish that thought from your head. Cold-brewing is completely different.
Coffee is usually brewed with heat and/or pressure and is relatively quickly made. To make cold-brewed coffee however, drip by drip, water passes through a chamber full of ground coffee slower than a schooner on a windless day. After 24 hours, you’ll have enough to make a few cocktails but not much more. Nate Brown, Merchant House’s Co-Founder, considers the result rarer than a mermaid siting, with blueberry, blackberry and white chocolate flavours enveloping your tongue.
True to form, the bar produces its own syrup for the final ingredient, an almond and vanilla preparation that complements the gin’s secret spices. Normally, the bar makes an almond and orange blossom syrup but the orange blossom clashes with the coffee - thus the vanilla, a much sought after spice of the adventurers of yore.
The cocktail arrives at your table in a martini glass or coupette after a quick shake.
With all the care that goes into the Merchant, you may question your intentions of drinking it, as if breaching your lips would spoil the cocktail’s integrity. But once that lovely liquid lands on your palette and fills your sails, you’re likely to order another one posthaste.
For another Merchant House throwback to the spice ships check out their Darjeeling Gimlet, featured here in the Daily Telegraph.