Shake it, stir it, set it on fire!
Last time I went to a cocktail class, I was wearing a pink wig and had to slurp a bubble-gum flavoured drink through a phallic pink straw. Thankfully, the experience at Merkaba couldn’t be more different.
Visiting on a Thursday evening with three friends – Anna, Nick and Emma – we were here for Merkaba’s ‘Cocktail Masterclass’ – a two-hour session that is available for groups of up to 20.
Set beneath My Brighton hotel, Merkaba feels special from the moment you walk in. Soft lighting and salt-water aquariums set the tone and, with no windows to the outside world, I didn’t feel like I was in Brighton at all – within minutes, I’d made the mental switch from work to holiday mode. This clever, mood-setting sorcery is all part of the Merkaba magic.
Joining the others at Merkaba’s long golden bar, we were greeted by Hadrien, our cocktail tutor for the evening. He handed me a welcome drink – a Bellini made with the bar’s homemade peach puree, it slipped down far too easily.
“Our purees are made with 98 per cent fresh fruit,” Hadrien explained as we sipped our drinks and nibbled on cashew nuts and crisps.
Meanwhile, we perused the multipage cocktail menu, which features everything from Mojitos and Espresso Martinis to crazier concoctions made with basil oil and Matcha tea. You can choose any two cocktails to create, or if, like us, you can’t decide, you can ask for suggestions.
The Best Seller
To start, Hadrien suggested their best seller: the Porn Star Martini. Apparently a favourite of Kate Middleton’s, he explained how this popular drink was born in Soho’s LAB bar.
Placing Pink Pigeon rum, fresh lime juice, homemade passion-fruit puree, vanilla gomme (syrup) and a few other bottles on the bar, Hadrien talked us through each step as he measured the ingredients into a metal shaker.
After topping with ice and tapping on a lid, he shook the cocktail with the full-body wiggle of a true expert.
Straining the liquid into a martini glasses, he added fresh passion fruit, and poured Champagne into a shot glass on the side. “You can sip the Champagne separately, or pour it in,” he explained.
The sweet rum was a perfect balance to the tart passion fruit and dry Champagne. And thanks to Hadrien’s vigorous mixing, the cocktail had a silky, almost creamy quality. “Like nectar,” Nick beamed as he closed his eyes to savour it. “I could get into trouble with that,” Anna grinned as she polished it off.
Meanwhile, Emma was behind the bar, knocking back a shot of liqueur and making more Martinis for the group. Taking turns behind the bar is all part of the experience and, during our class, everyone had at least one go.
Rolling out the Red Carpet
Next, Hadrien suggested a Red Carpet – Merkaba’s own creation and their second-best seller.
“It’s fruity, sweet and really fancy,” he laughed, placing strawberry puree, fruit juices, vodka, Licor 43, Prosecco, gomme, and a bamboo-shaped glass on the bar.
Starting with the gomme, he explained how we could make this syrup ourselves with sugar and hot water. As he added more ingredients, I scribbled down the recipe so I could recreate the Red Carpet at home.
After shaking and adding crushed ice, he blowtorched a marshmallow and placed it on top. The scent of the marshmallow mingled with the strawberries to create the nostalgic aroma of a sweetshop, yet it tasted fresh and fruity rather than synthetic – like strawberry cheesecake with a kick.
For the grand finale, we experienced a My Tiki. A blend of nine ingredients, Hadrien poured this exotic rum cocktail into a tribal-style tankard. He added lime, sugar and Angostura bitters, then lit a match and set it on fire.
Blue flames licked into the air and, coaxed by Hadrien, Anna sprinkled on powdered cinnamon that crackled and smelt like caramel.
Finally, another bar tender took a mouthful of Jamaican rum and breathed it into the fire, creating dragon-like flames that, despite standing well back, warmed my cheeks.
By now, we were surrounded by cocktails. Feeling tiddly but in control, we praised Hadrien choices as we finished our drinks.
As well as learning new skills and expanding my cocktail repertoire, I’d had a huge amount of fun. At £30 a head, this would make a great birthday treat, a relaxed work-do, or a great get-together with friends.
You can also book a seasonal Christmas Masterclass which, for an extra £10 each, includes posh canapés, a platter of sweet treats, and a surprise Christmas gift for each person.
Merkaba’s website states that “great cocktails create memorable moments,” and I can certainly vouch that our theatrical evening of blowtorching and fire-breathing lived up to this. Mercifully, there wasn’t a phallic straw in sight.