Remember, when you were a child, the excitement for the launch of the latest Disney movie at the end of the year? Yes? Good! That’s precisely that feeling the team at Little Barrel in Geneva wanted to recreate with this year’s winter menu.
Sending back people to their childhood memories and giving a nod to their friends who are now right in the heart of the Disney/Pixar craze with their kids, the gents from Little Barrel have taken inspiration from old and recent animation movies to come up with their 12 new cocktails and 3 mocktails.
Printed on an old map of Geneva and the surrounding France region, the menu is a nod to pirate movies, a treasure trove for children fantasies and a sort of going back to the roots for Little Barrel’s, Geneva’s “official” rum bar and pirate lair.
Each cocktail is drawn on the map in an object evocative of the movie it was inspired by. Aladdin is inside a magic lamp, Cendrillon aka Cinderella inside a carriage, Winnie inside in a honey pot, etc.
Is there vodka, rum or even mezcal in this or that drink, that is anyone’s guess. The information about the ingredients for each cocktail is scarce, the aim being to let people’s imagination run free… like when they were kids. I was invited to a tasting on Tuesday and tried to guess each drink’s main spirit. I did pretty well.
Little Barrel’s back to childhood menu is pretty daring. Most cocktails use ingredients that are unfamiliar to Genevan palates in a drink. A risky gamble but taking guests out of their comfort zone towards a more mature level of cocktails serves the growth of cocktail culture, just as children grow into adults by discovering new things!
For people wanting to start with things a bit “familiar”, the Lilo & Stitch is a safe bet: a straightforward combination of Jamaican rum and soda. Iced coffee and Espresso martini amateurs will enjoy the Rebelle. Cold brew coffee is mixed with Guiness, cocoa cream and rum for some frothy deliciousness! If you like things a bit more creamy, the Là Haut (Up) is the drink for you. Combining Bourbon, rye, egg white and cream, it’s a rather sweet cocktail, more like a dessert drink in my opinion. Think Bailey’s.
For the most adventurous palates, on the opposite side of the spectrum is the Pocahontas. A word of warning: it is really peculiar. Laphroaig scotch meets with sherry in a potent concoction described by Quentin, one of the two bar managers, as reminiscing of old wine.
The Mulan Collins is made with gin, lemongrass, an ingredient typical of Asian cooking, and, to further evoke Asia, homemade carbonated roasted rice water. The drink was stronger than expected and packed quite a punch. The roasted rice flavour is well present – which I liked – and could lead you to think the drink is sake-based. The Mulan Collins is served with a rice cracker presented in an origami.
Another exotic drink inspired by the Middle East is the Aladin. Vodka-based, it uses typical oriental products such as dates and advieh, a spice mixture combining rose, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, pepper and a few other spices. A sleek ribbon surrounds the glass reminiscing Aladin’s magic carpet.
With the cold weather now sweeping over Geneva, those looking for a hot drink to warm up will be happy to order a Livre de la jungle (Jungle Book), a chai grog emulsified with lecythin and butter for additional texture.
If you think butter is an unusual ingredient, wait until you try the Ratatouille, a savoury concoction based on rye whiskey infused with Comté cheese! A strong surprising drink for the unused palates carefully prepared by Little Barrel’s little chefs. For that they use the fat wash technique. It consists in infusing the spirit with the fat ingredient and putting it in the freezer. Through congelation, the fat will solidify and rise to the top of the container while the spirit will remain liquid at the bottom. Then, all that is left to do is to discard the fat through a simple filtration process.
Aiming to please their growing Greek clientele, Little Barrel’s team has come up with a cocktail using mastiha, a liqueur from the island of Chios made with mastic distillate or mastic oil. I didn’t enjoy mastiha when I visited Athens two years ago but, if there is one thing I’ve learned with Nicolas from Little Barrel coincidentally, is to never say “I don’t like” anymore. And there you go: the Hercule was my favourite drink of Tuesday’s tasting! Light and tasty with a hint of honey, fig and cloves.
The Alice is mezcal based with beetroot juice (the earth taste works wonders with the smokey agave spirit), pear juice and a strawberry shrub.
Last but not least, non alcohol drinkers will also benefit from the back to childhood menu. Little Barrel has 3 suggestions: the Winnie made with Jasmine syrup, honey, ginger and lemon, the Roi Lion (Lion King) made with rooiboos, saffron, grapefruit and sesame; and, finally, Les mondes de Ralph made with Coke, chilli pepper, lime, soda and orange blossom water.
So, will you stick to the comfort of the more familiar drinks like one of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys? Or will you dare grow your palate and try the menu’s more adventurous drinks?