This is -for now- the final instalment for this interview series with bartender Joe, so I would really like to thank Joe Summerfield for being such a good sport in answering all my many many questions, and to Cormac Thomson for providing the fantastic photographs, if you ever find yourself in Newcastle be sure to have a drink or two at the Poison Cabinet! 

If you were to walk into a cocktail bar anywhere in the world, what is your go to order?

Either a manhattan or a boulevardier, preferably with rye in both. Any cocktail bar should have the ingredients for both, they’re very simple to make, but there’s lots of room for the bartender to put his own twist on them, which is always interesting to see.

Joe Summerfield at the Poison Cabinet - photo by Cormac Thomson

Joe Summerfield at the Poison Cabinet - photo by Cormac Thomson

If you could create your very own gin, what botanicals would you use or what general flavour profile would you want it to have?

If I were to create one, it would be like being dragged backwards through a juniper bush. But I also really like thyme, Szechuan pepper, and grapefruit zest as botanicals. I like the idea of a bit of nuttiness too. Then I’d probably barrel age it, maybe for a short time in heavy char bourbon barrels, or for longer in mezcal barrels for a bit of smoke. The first batch would probably be horrific, but I reckon with a few batches I could make it work.

In your opinion, what is the best style(s) of gin for making cocktails, and why should every cocktail bar stock it?

Style wise it has to be a juniper-forward London dry gin. For me, This is the best representative of the spirit, refined and heavy on the juniper to stand up to other ingredients. It’s also important to stock an old tom for a sweeter edge, and a better idea of what the classic cocktails would have tasted like way back when.

 What would you say is the best thing about gin?

It’s versatility and availability. Everywhere you go, there’s something new, and so many different ways to use it. As long as you go to the right places, they’ll make good on both of those factors, and you can have something different every time.

Have you entered any cocktail making competitions that you enjoyed and would like to talk about, (what cocktail you made, why you chose those ingredients, how it did in the competition, is it now incorporated into the bar menu, was it a challenging competition)?

 I’ve recently won an international competition with a mezcal and rosemary drink with ginger, Averna, and sweet vermouth. It was praised for its simplicity, which is what I strive for, so that was really pleasing. I also entered a bourbon competition a while ago with a long drink with chocolate milkshake and Left Hand Brewing’s Nitro Milk Stout, trying to emanate the malt milkshake shops of the States back in the day, which was a nice change from taking these things so seriously. That one required two drinks to enter, so I also did a Sazerac style drink with bourbon, scotch, suze, and chartreuse, served with homemade chartreuse jelly, and suze caviar. It was great fun making those jellies, but it was a lot of work for not too much end product. I’ve done a few others here and there, but the competition with the mezcal and rosemary drink has been by far my most successful, which I think only reinforces my opinion that simpler drinks are better.

 If you were to own your own bar, and could create your own spirits to serve at the bar, what spirits would you create, and what cocktails would be on your menu?

 Operating on the small scale of production for a single bar, I’d have a few constant products, like a vodka, gin, dark rum, for classics and spirit/mixers, but with in house production I reckon I could get away with a lot more interesting things, like distilling a whiskey with botanicals, agave spirit blends, even single-botanical spirits that are seasonal based on what’s available at the time, distilled from whatever grain I fancy using at the time. It’s that small scale production that really allows for experimentation. Sure some of the results won’t be amazing, some of them will probably be horrible, but it’s the exploration of something new, and the search for something original that drives this industry, and finding that one distillate that works more than makes up for the fifty before it that didn’t quite go to plan. As for what drinks I’d put on, I’ve had exclusive responsibility for the new menu where I work at The Poison Cabinet, Newcastle, so you’ll have to pay me a visit and see…