The Spirited Traveller: Spoilt for tippling choice in Manchester

( - When cotton was king, Manchester was best known for its thriving mill industry. These days, it might be argued that in England’s Great Northern City the cocktail reigns supreme, with many of its old mills and warehouses now converted into bars and clubs.

Bar staff at cocktail venue Cloud 23 at the Hilton Beetham Tower in Manchester, UK is shown in this undated publicity photo. REUTERS/Handout

With so many drinking outposts, from traditional pubs to sports bars, and even a sprinkling of tiki lounges, Mancunians are spoilt for choice.

For a glimpse into tippling Manchester, I turned to Chas Ayres of Ice Cubed, a high-end supplier of ice to the city’s bars. While the pale ale known as “bitter” is perhaps the most “Manchester-centric drink,” he opines, a peek at cocktail menus around the city reveals an extraordinarily wide range of options.

Executive travellers might be likely to bend elbows at one of the “perfectly adequate” business hotels in town serving gin and Champagne cocktails.

According to Ayers, better options include the bar at the boutique Great John Street Hotel (<here;) and Cloud 23 at the Hilton Beetham Tower (<>;), which boasts a 23rd-floor view over the Pennines.

Meanwhile, seekers of chic might opt for the eponymous bar inside the Malmaison Hotel (<here;).

However, Ayers urges travellers to venture to Spinningfields, a relatively new city centre development dotted with banks and insurance companies, to sample an establishment with more “chutzpah.”

Here, The Alchemist (<>;) is known for its lush décor and whiskey drinks, such as the Smokey Old Fashioned (Woodford Reserve bourbon, maple syrup, Jerry Thomas' Bitters, oak smoke, chilled with an ice ball).

Meanwhile, the Northern Quarter is known for its roster of digital media and design companies, and a dense clustering of bars and restaurants catering to them. This includes upscale Apotheca (<>;), which serves eclectic cocktails and saucily-named shots to "a mixture of suits and civvies," Ayres says.

Finally, for those seeking a bit of escapism, Manchester also has a surprisingly robust tiki culture. Of particular note is Hula Tiki Lounge (<>;), on the edge of the Northern Quarter.

“Hula Tiki is the only place I’ve seen people less than 30 minutes after leaving their desk at the office dancing on tables,” Ayres confides.

“This is about 5.30pm on a wet Tuesday afternoon in deep midwinter. I kid you not.”

In a nod to local culture, the “legendary” rum-soaked cocktail Zombie is served not in a tiki mug, but in an “Olde English” pint pot.

RECIPE: Cherry Bakewell Martini

Courtesy of The Alchemist

Just outside Manchester is the town of Bakewell, credited as the home of the Bakewell Tart. This dessert-like ‘Tini is in homage to the traditional English confection made with jam, ground almonds and custard.

22.5 ml Grants Morello Cherry liqueur

22.5 ml Amaretto (almond-flavoured liqueur)

7.5 ml Monin Cherry syrup

25 ml Eager Cranberry Juice

Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a coupe glass.

Finish with a float of Chantilly foam (Vanilla Cream) on top: Hold a spoon, rounded side up, just over the drink, and gently pour the cream over the spoon so it “floats” on top of the drink. Garnish with a Griottine cherry (Morello cherry macerated in Kirsch liqueur).

(Kara Newman is the author of “The Secret Financial Life of Food”, Columbia University Press; publication date autumn 2012. Any opinions expressed are her own.)

Editing by Peter Myers