Bramble cocktail - its inception told by its creator

Words by Dick Bradsell

Photography by Dan Malpass

Found on many bar menus around the world, this contemporary classic cocktail was created in the mid-80s by Dick Bradsell at Fred's Club in Soho, London, England. The following, in Dick’s own words, is a compilation of two pieces Dick wrote for us about his creation, the first in 2001 and the second in 2015, the year before he tragically died.

“The best-backhanded compliment I have ever received was from a French bartender who flatly refused to believe I had invented The Bramble. In his world, it was far too well known a drink for somebody like me to have created it. How sort of proud I was. I was even prouder recently to find it on the menu amongst the 'Classic cocktails' at one of Raymond Blanc's country house restaurants. Hey, I invented a classic! Do I have to retire now?

I created this drink whilst working as the bar manager at Fred's Club in Soho so it must have been back in the mid-eighties or thereabouts. Without going into unprofessional detail on precisely what shenanigans occurred within, Fred's on Carlisle Street was the ultimate 80s members club. It was the original members club designed for young people, and Fred Taylor filled the members' list with proper music business people: MC Kinky, Boy George, Neneh Cherry, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Aztec Camera, Naomi Campbell....

I wanted to invent a truly British drink for reasons that escape me now. I failed because I could not source an acceptable UK crème de mûre and lemons are not exactly native to our cloudy climes. A bramble, by the way, is the bush that blackberries grow on. I know this as I spent inordinate amounts of time, in my Isle of Wight childhood, cutting and scraping myself on their jaggy thorns in attempts to capture those elusive berries that others had failed to harvest. A metaphor for something I am sure.

The success of the drink, in my opinion, is due to its simplicity. It is basically a gin sour with blackberry stuff in (Ribena can be an adequate cheap substitute for the liqueur). It also conforms to a very common method of blending and balancing flavours that occurs very often in the world of cocktails (Daiquiri, Margarita, Sour, Caipirinha). Take a spirit; Gin, sour it with lemon, sweeten it with sugar syrup and flavour it with crème de mûre. Some of us may recognise the similarity between this and a Singapore Sling (gin, lemon, sugar, cherry brandy and soda).

At Fred's, we made fresh lemon juice, we had gin, and we were already making Collinses and Russian Spring Punches, so of course, people would bring us products to try. One guy was importing French cider, Armagnac, some cider brandy, and other bits and bobs: his two sons worked as chefs in French restaurants in London, so they had him bring over products from Paris and Normandy. One company – I believe it was Cave de Bissey – produced liqueurs in wine bottles: they did cassis, framboise, mûre and some other bits and bobs. The importer kept coming in insisting that we try them. Anyway, eventually, he said, “Try this.” And I tried the mûre. And, immediately, I had my “madeleine moment”. I was back in my childhood on the Isle of Wight, going blackberrying, and being pricked by the brambles, and picking only the topmost fruit – you don't eat the bottom ones, of course. During carnival time on the Isle of Wight, we were all covered in tiny scratches from the brambles and bright purple from the blackberry juice.

We shared a kitchen with the restaurant next door, which was owned by the chap who went on to start the Ministry of Sound. They put their oysters and seafood on display out the front, so they had a crushed ice machine to provide ice for their displays. Incidentally, I'd like to take this opportunity to shut down all debate over whether the Bramble was made with “crushed ice” or “cracked ice”. It was made with crushed ice because that was what the machine made. Pouring the mix over crushed ice is a key component because this method adds length to a cocktail that might otherwise veer towards the cloying and sickly. It dilutes it.

I had all of this in mind, and I thought, “I want to design a British cocktail.”

My first thought was Gin, sugar syrup and lemon juice, but neither sugar syrup nor lemons are what you'd call English ingredients. So, I took the basic sour, made it up with mûre, and shook it up into a fruit martini-style cocktail. But when I drank it, it just didn't work. It wasn't right.

So, I made it again. And this time I put it in my favourite glass, which is a small old-fashioned: we loved those Mai-Tai glasses, and we had plenty at Fred's. I put crushed ice into a small old-fashioned in a volcano shape and poured the lemon juice mix in it. I dropped two little straws in it and decided that this volcano shape looked rather nice, so I placed a raspberry on top of it and drizzled mûre around it.

Not too much mûre, of course: the drink has got to balance. That's the art of The Bramble: to include enough lemon to balance the mûre.

Why was it garnished with a raspberry? Because I didn't have any blackberries. Fruits weren't as available in those days.

How to make it

Glass: Old-fashioned
Garnish: Blackberry & a slice of lemon
Method: Fill glass with crushed ice, add gin, lemon juice and sugar syrup and stir. Top up with more crushed ice. Then lace drink with crème de mûre by slowly pouring over fresh ice. The mûre should make a pleasing 'bleeding' effect in the glass thus the drink should be served immediately with 2 short straws.

2 shots Gin
1½ shots Freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ shot Sugar syrup
1 shot Crème de mûre

Those of you that insist on making this drink wrong with vodka should think up your own bloody name for it. I say this because the gin in the cocktail is an integral part of the whole flavour so replacing it with the omnipresent spirit of the Tzars causes the drink to lose its subtlety. Although Vodka Bramble is apt enough title to still please me. And after suffering at the hands of a disbelieving French cynic I need pleasing.”

See Difford's Guide Bramble recipe

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