Created in the mid-80s by Dick Bradsell at Fred's Club, Soho, London, England. In 2001 Dick wrote the following for us about his creation:
“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 at Fred's Club in Soho so it must have been back in the mid-eighties or there abouts. 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 creme de mure. Some of us may recognise the similarity between this and a Singapore Sling (gin, lemon, sugar, cherry brandy and soda).
Pouring the mix over crushed ice is the another key component because this method adds length to a cocktail that might otherwise veer towards the cloying and sickly. It dilutes it. Another advantage of its simplicity is that the recipe is very easy to remember. And it may be this, more than anything else, that has given the Bramble its staying power on the menus of the cocktail world.
How to make it:
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 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.”
The Bramble was well-known by 2001 and could be found on many bar menus across the UK. By 2015, Dick creation was truly a contemporary classic, is popularity spreading far beyond the UK, appearing on cocktail menus all around the world. Forgetting we had the above copy from 14 years earlier we asked Dick to write about his drink:
"Now, I never talk about what my customers did in my bar. In fact, the only people ever to give me permission to talk about them were the comedians Vic and Bob. They were reading some gossip about something that had happened in a bar, so I said, “Well, isn't that rather rude of the bar staff to talk about their customers like that?”
And they said, “Oh come on, don't you talk about people in here?”
So I said, “No, they'd never feel comfortable in here again. Would you?!”
And they said, “Fuck that! We need the publicity!”
So the only customers whose “secrets” I have ever revealed were Vic and Bob. And that was because they very specifically asked me to.
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 was the bar manager at Fred's, and we shared a kitchen with the restaurant next door, which was owned by the chap who went on to start 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.
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. So the importer kept coming in insisting that we try them. I always said, “We have liqueurs already and we use really good brands.” (We used Marie Brizard.)
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.
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 a raspberry? Because I didn't have any blackberries. Fruits weren't as available in those days.”