The London Calling cocktail is a favourite with bartenders — but when was it really invented?
Ask your bartender what's in a Barbara West Cocktail, and chances are they'll give you a shrug of the shoulders. They've probably never heard of it.
But ask the same bartender for a London Calling cocktail and — provided you're in the right place for this sort of thing — you'll see them pour gin, dry sherry, lemon juice, a little sugar syrup, and orange bitters into a mixing tin. They'll shake it up with ice, and serve it in a nice little cocktail glass — you may even get a grapefruit twist to go with it.
If you ask the bartender more about the drink, they might tell you that the London Calling cocktail was invented by a bartender called Chris Jepson at Milk & Honey in London in 2002; they might also share that it was on every Milk & Honey menu after that. The bartender might say it's one of their favourites.
And that would all be correct and true. But if the bartender told you that, then they could have told you what's in a Barbara West Cocktail, too.
Because, though the proportions differ, the Barbara West Cocktail is built using the same ingredients as the London Calling — and it dates to the 1930s, according to Ted Haigh's 2004 book Vintage Cocktails & Forgotten Spirits. Jepson's drink calls for orange bitters instead of Angostura bitters, and adds a lick of sugar to sweeten things up — and it's an altogether better drink. Jepson's drink is the superior beverage of the two, and that goes a long way to explaining why it has become a modern classic, and the Barbara West is best forgotten.
That little nugget of information — stored somewhere in the depths of my memory — came from a conversation with Brisbane-based bartender Kal Moore a few years back; a tip of the hat to him for the knowledge. It came to mind while tasting the drink over the last few days and trying to nail down the recipe I liked most.
Because there's more than a few tweaks to the spec out there. Some tend toward the drier side, with more lemon juice in the mix; some lean a little more on the gin. I've tasted some great versions of the drink in bars, and some not so great; to me — and this is personal preference — I don't like it when the gin sticks out too much, but others enjoy the presence of a proper navy strength gin.
I've also tried it served on a rock of good quality ice in a tumbler, with honey syrup in the place of sugar syrup, and you know what? It was delicious. That variation, too, has probably been done before, maybe just the other day, maybe back in the 1930s — who knows?
(In case it hasn't, I'm naming it the Calling Card Cocktail. There — I've claimed it.)
So don't get bogged down in the minutiae of who created what when. They're all variations on a theme. All that matters, really, is that you pays your money and you takes your choice.
London Calling cocktail
- 45ml gin
- 15ml fino sherry
- 15ml lemon juice
- 15ml sugar syrup
- 2 dashes of orange bitters
- Add all ingredients to a shaker and shake hard with ice.
- Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
- Garnish with a grapefruit twist.