Few conjure cocktails with the skill of Jamie MacDonald, the Edinburgh drinksmith who created a stir at the annual UK World Class bartender final. Now Britain’s No.1 aims to elevate mixology to the same status as gourmet cuisine
[I liked writing promos – and at the time at GQ we were doing a fair amount of drink-company paid-for articles about the cult of the mixologist. You have to remember that around 2011-12, there’d be queues like bus stops outside London cocktails bars as folk clamoured to be seen in spaces where these bartender magicians plied their trade. I never went to any of them. The only cocktail bar I’ve ever been to was Doctor Inks Curiosities in Exeter in 2019 but there was no queuing involved. We had the place to ourselves. Their cocktails were superb – I’m usually late to fads. Jamie MacDonald was the country’s best bartender when I met up with him in the West End…]
GQ Promo, 2011
To be the best in your field takes a fine mix of skill, practice, application and, as Roy Castle pointed out, dedication. Although bartenders have brightened existence since Isambard Kingdom Brunel ordered the installation of a bar at the Great Western Hotel in 1850s Paddington – the UK’s first – it wasn’t until six years ago that Diageo Reserve Brands launched its annual World Class bartender programme to find the deftest deliverer of deeply satisfying drinks.
Endorsed by mixologist maestros like Salvatore Calabrese and Peter Dorelli, and using classic brands such as Ketel One vodka, Tanqueray No.10 gin and Zacapa rum, the British heats whittled 600 entries down to 12. The victor of a day-long UK final was Jamie MacDonald, the 33-year-old co-owner of The Raconteur in Edinburgh, whose menu features modern twists on classic, vintage and forgotten cocktails.
The Raconteur was already a runaway hit, but since Jamie’s triumph at the UK World Class competition last June, and then a third-place finish in the World Class Global Final in Delhi, sales have risen 15 per cent. “The interesting thing is, when people find us, they don’t tell their friends,” Jamie says. “They like to keep it a secret, but even so, we’re now turning away hundreds at the weekend.”
Expansion is imminent. With space for just 80 at their home in Edinburgh’s upmarket Stockbridge, in 2012 you’ll be able to experience a “powder-snow: pina colada or a corn’n’oil rum “soup” (served in a dish with a spoon) in a refurbished, 120-capacity central Edinburgh location. Behind the scenes you’ll find liquid-nitrogen canisters and dry-ice drawers. “It’ll be like a science lab,” Jamie explains. “We’ll serve drinks that are liquid, but some we’ll deconstruct and make into a solid form. Machines like thermo-griddles and Anti-Griddles will bring the temperature down to make liquids into various shapes and ornaments.”
And after that?
“London and New York,” Jamie reveals, “taking cocktails to another level.”
Now make the winning cocktail…
Chaste (Latin purity)
35ml Ketel One vodka
15ml Benedictine DOM
20ml sweet Italian vermouth
7ml Lagavulin 16-Year-Old whisky
4 dashes smoked whisky bitters
Stir all the ingredients with ice in a cut mixing glass for controlled dilution. Strain and serve in a chilled rocks glass over an ice sphere or block.