Life Food & Drink

Friday 15 November 2019

Why it's time to take the machismo out of mixology

Signe Johansen believes the cocktail industry has long been dominated by male 'gatekeepers'. The Norwegian cook tells Corinna Hardgrave about her mission to take the machismo out of mixology

Marmalade Sour
Marmalade Sour
Stirring it: Johansen says the idea of a 'ladylike' drink is outdated and patronising
Agua de Jamaica
Spirited by Signe Johansen

Wine may have cast off its traditional image of snooty sommeliers and arrogant connoisseurs, but according to Signe Johansen, the Norwegian cook and author of How to Hygge, Scandilicious and Scandilicious Baking, there is still work to be done.

The drinks industry has been historically been dominated by men, from Tom Cruise joyously slinging rum cocktails on a sunny beach to the hard-wired cliché of the male waiter serving James Bond his perfectly shaken not stirred Martini - and the "pale, male and stale" brigade are still at large. Except this time, they're even more serious. Probably bearded, with a sleeve of tattoos, these masters of mixology geek out on obscure ales, whisky, and lesser-spotted mescals.

Now Signe wants to redress the imbalance of what she sees as a new version of the old boys club, where mixologists pontificate earnestly about the art of the cocktail, enter elite competitions, and favour dry-ice-wafting cocktails solidly within the confines of fancy bars.

"Stuff that sort of machismo snootiness," she says, and in her new cocktail book, Spirited, Signe uses her skills as a food writer to bring together more than 50 well-crafted cocktail recipes, which range from kombuchas and non-alcoholic favourites to "attitude adjusting" stiffeners which most definitely include whiskey.

Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.

Log In

She tells me that she's been to tastings where the mansplaining was so blatant that it took every ounce of her willpower not to roll her eyes in exasperation. And she has lost track, she adds, of the number of occasions where she felt too intimidated to express an opinion, or was browbeaten by someone for either asking impertinent questions or for failing to embrace their "superior" knowledge.

"With whisky there certainly are what I call the 'gatekeepers', people who make these pronouncements about what's good and what's not. They're tailored to men," she says. "When I go to whiskey tastings, very often there's a handful of women amongst dozens of men. It is changing slowly but to my mind it's changing a bit too slowly, and it's unfortunate because whisky still has that sort of fusty image, the idea of it being very masculine. And it's a shame, because as with wine, you have a huge spectrum of flavours. I love Irish whiskey because it has so many different flavour profiles and is different to Scotch whisky.

"There are so many women who have been put off by whisky in the past, and I say, 'Do you like rum? Well, if you like aged rum, why don't you taste a whisky that is sort of in that flavour bracket? Something that isn't too peaty, too smoky, and then you can compare the flavour to your favourite rum.'"

Signe is also frustrated with the presumption that females will always go for what the bartender considers to be a 'ladylike' drink.

"The girlie drink is so patronising," she says. "It's probably done with good intentions. In a bar, they think most of our female customers like these drinks; it's a kind of algorithm they work with. But it's unfortunate, because in this day and age, more and more women are choosing to drink more interesting things. They're not constrained by the idea that this is an appropriate drink for a woman. I know more and more women of different ages and backgrounds who say, 'yeah, I would like the whisky or the really strong spirit. I don't want a girly cocktail.'

It is still quite gendered, which is strange because women can appreciate flavour as much as men. There's no biological reason why we can't have the same tastes in things. It's peculiar sexism. I don't really get it, but it does exist. Women have to push back against it and say, 'No, this is not what I asked for, I'm not interested in something that is floral and has cucumbers in it. I might want something a bit more robust.'"

It is not all bad though. Signe says that the industry has come on in leaps and bounds over the last 10 years. Many of the blenders working in whisky are women and so are an increasing number of cocktail-makers. Having found a merry band of 'spirited' women ranging in age from 20 to 70, Signe set up a tasting club which meets on an informal basis to taste whisky, interesting spirits and to try out new cocktails.

"It's kind of like a book club in that we get together and talk about it," she says. "It doesn't mean going into a bar, it doesn't mean getting dressed up like you're going on a hens' night, it doesn't mean putting on high heels. You can schlep around in whatever clothes you're wearing. It's been really fun and you meet people in unexpected ways. It's not a formal thing. It's less about the peacocking and more about the conviviality."

Spirited is written from a cook's perspective, and most of the ingredients are something you will already have in your kitchen. "I think a lot of people are intimidated and think it's not something they can do at home. But of course you can, it's like cooking. It's not difficult once you get your head around a few basic techniques. If you like to create a meal, why not craft a drink to go alongside it, it doesn't have to be complicated," she says.

There is also a section which focuses on wild ingredients that are in season, such as blackberries, rosehips, herbs, and flowers.

"It is meant to be quite democratic, I haven't included anything that's too strange," she says. "You don't have to spend a lot of money acquiring the ingredients, you might already have them, like the teas, lemons and the herbs. I don't have a lot of kit in my kitchen. All you need are the kind of basics that you would have as a cook - a good chopping board, a good knife and mixing bowls, good jam jars that you can seal well. You can actually get away with very little equipment. Don't go and buy a vapouriser or blowtorch. That's fine if you're charging €25 for a drink that you want to show off a bit, but at home you don't need all that."

 

 

 

Agua de Jamaica

2019-10-26_lif_54237935_I2.JPG
Agua de Jamaica
 

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

2 bags of hibiscus flower tea

½ small pineapple, sliced with the peel on

1 x 330ml bottle ginger beer

2 unwaxed limes, sliced into discs

Ice cubes to taste

Method

1. Place the hibiscus teabags into a large heatproof bowl or pitcher and pour in one litre of boiling water. Infuse for 10 minutes.

2. Remove the bags, then add the pineapple slices and allow to cool completely before mixing in the other ingredients in the pitcher. Taste and adjust the sweetness as needed. You may want to add freshly squeezed lime juice to taste.

 

Campari and Clementine Flamingo

Serves 10

Ingredients

Juice of 6 clementines

Juice of 4 limes

200ml Campari

400ml golden rum

600–800ml grapefruit

Soda, ginger beer or other sparkling mixer of your choice

2–4 slices of clementine

Lots of ice cubes

Method

1. Mix all the ingredients except the ice in the pitcher and give it a really good stir. Serve within 30 minutes or thereabouts so the soda doesn’t go flat. Add plenty of ice to each highball then garnish with a slice of clementine and a flamingo stirrer for added kitsch.

Marmalade sour

iw-marm.jpg
Marmalade Sour
 

Serves 1

Ingredients

1 heaped tsp marmalade (more if you like a sweeter cocktail)

Juice of 1 small orange

Juice of ½ lemon

1 egg white

30ml golden rum, whisky, brandy, vodka or gin

Small handful of ice cubes

Strip of orange peel or zest to garnish

Method

1. Chill your tumbler or cocktail glass if you’re so inclined.

2. Mix all the ingredients, except the ice and the orange zest, in a cocktail shaker, seal and give it a vigorous shake until frothy. Add the ice then shake again until your hands feel cold. Taste and add more orange or lemon juice according to taste.

3. Pour the contents of the shaker into a cocktail glass, wine glass or tea cup. Garnish with the strip of orange peel or a spritz of orange zest lightly grated over the drink.

Variation

Make this with other citrus fruit such as clementine, or pink grapefruit marmalade with fresh pink grapefruit juice. Be mindful of grapefruit’s bitterness and adjust the ingredients to your taste

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

2 bags of hibiscus flower tea

½ small pineapple, sliced with the peel on

1 x 330ml bottle ginger beer

2 unwaxed limes, sliced into discs

Ice cubes to taste

Method

1. Place the hibiscus teabags into a large heatproof bowl or pitcher and pour in one litre of boiling water. Infuse for 10 minutes.

2. Remove the bags, then add the pineapple slices and allow to cool completely before mixing in the other ingredients in the pitcher. Taste and adjust the sweetness as needed. You may want to add freshly squeezed lime juice to taste.

 

Campari and Clementine Flamingo

Serves 10

Ingredients

Juice of 6 clementines

Juice of 4 limes

200ml Campari

400ml golden rum

600–800ml grapefruit

Soda, ginger beer or other sparkling mixer of your choice

2–4 slices of clementine

Lots of ice cubes

Method

1. Mix all the ingredients except the ice in the pitcher and give it a really good stir. Serve within 30 minutes or thereabouts so the soda doesn’t go flat. Add plenty of ice to each highball then garnish with a slice of clementine and a flamingo stirrer for added kitsch.

Weekend Magazine

Editors Choice

Also in Life