Words: Shamim de Brún
Images: Al Higgins via 1661 Press Office
Bar 1661 has managed to create a space as impressive to the international bartending community as it is homely to locals.
Given that staunch Irishness is a core pillar in their mission, the team works closely with regional and national drink producers to source ingredients. The exceptional speed of service and flawless hospitality of this place is the kind of remarkable that means you’d say, “wow, that was quick”, out loud.
1661’s show-stopping cocktails made a fan of me back in 2019, but this new menu is something else entirely. You could come back every week, drink an appropriate or outrageous amount, and still try something new every time.
But in this age of a 32 cocktail menu, choice paralysis is legit. So if you’re intimidated by spirits you don’t recognise. Or just have no idea what an isomalt is, let alone what its place is on a cocktail menu; then you are not alone. We’ve cherry-picked cocktails that might sound unfamiliar when you read about them but live in the same flavour profile world as the classics you know all too well. So in no particular order, here are 5 cocktails to try at Dublin’s best cocktail bar.
The spicy marg crazy has been with us for a while, and the flavour makers at 1661 know how much we love them from our steadfast consumption of the Craft Cocktail version. So when they concocted this thirty-two county republic menu, they knew they wanted an Irish AF version.
The Generation Six is made up of Micil poitín, tequila, Empirical Ayuuk, mango, bell pepper, sumac, lime, chipotle and like legitimately, every drink I’m going to talk about here is much more than the sum of its parts. However, if you hadn’t read the details, you’d swear it was just the best spicy marg you’d ever had. The spice pops well without overwhelming, but if you want it hotter, you can stir in the garnish. If you’re into siracha, this is the cocktail for you.
If you are a “woo margaritas” person but want to lean into Irish, and let’s face it, trade up. Get in and get on Generation Six.
Manhattans haven’t been the trendy go-to cocktails for the masses. However, a subculture of devout Manhattan-ites dominates the online cocktail discourse. The difference between a Manhattan and a Perfect Manhatten is so oft discussed that the words can lose all meaning. One thing about Manhattan drinkers, though, is they know their shit.
This cocktail is not a technical Manhattan. But, like every drink on the menu, it is too Irish to be anything but itself. The Libertarian is made up of Dunville’s Peated, rye, sour cherry, dark chocolate, aromatised wine, bitters, and preserved lemon, but what takes the absolute cake is that this drink has been barrel aged on the premises.
Barrel ageing has been significant in craft beer for a while, with many beers doing crossover collabs with Irish whiskies. However, they have taken it up a whole other level and changed the game. Barrel-aging quite literally uses wood and time to change the flavour of a cocktail by letting it mature. We often think of cocktails ready to rock as soon as they’re double shaken and sieved into their pristine chilled glass. However, conceptualising a barrel-aged cocktail takes an open mind and a nerdy pursuit of flavour.
Here it pays off. It has all the va va voom you expect from a Manhatten but with the kind of complexity that would impress the most ardent Manhattan-ite and maybe even tempt them away from their signature drink in favour of its Irish counterpart.
This year Espresso Martinis made the kind of comeback that most 80s pop stars and Chance the Rapper could only dream of. Much to the dismay of busy bartenders everywhere. All the iced coffee flavour with the buzz of vanilla vodka. But they get a bit samey after a while, and most aren’t made with decent coffee.
The Belfast Coffee is made up of Bán Poitín, Demerara sugar (the only sugar that should ever touch coffee) and Cold Brew Coffee. It’s one of the simplest cocktails in their repertoire, but it is not to be skipped. Signature cocktails tell you a lot about a bar, and this one says they know what they’re doing even when they’re keeping it simple.
With the Belfast Coffee, you get the best of the chilled coffee alcoholic attraction of an espresso martini, except everything is better quality than the average Espresso Martini. Added bonus, it’s got cream. What isn’t better with a little cream?
Those of us that are more in the mimosa at brunch camp can forget that Bloody Marys are a thing. They’re the OG “hair of the dog” drink. Reputed to cure hangovers with its combination of a heavy vegetable base (to settle the stomach), salt (to replenish lost electrolytes), and alcohol (to relieve head and body aches).
But besides all that, the Bloody Mary has stans to the same level as Kendrick Lamar. But this signature twist on the Bloody Mary has something else we as a nation are actual Beetles manic about – Buckfast. The Bloody Monk combines Bán poitín, Buckfast, tomato, beetroot, dilisk, horseradish, caraway, pepper, celery, and Tabasco. With a flourish they turn these parts into the kind of tomato-based drink that even the “why would you drink a tomato” crowd would be rallied by.
Marinis are the timeless classic I will advocate for over and over in the face of any naysayer. Martini drinkers are loyal boozehounds who are all about the taste of the spirit. The booze-only cocktail is a cold, crisp, salty drink that has the power to change the world.
Tempting a Martini person away from their gin or vodka stalwart can feel like a losing battle. So they dig their heels in. This, however, has the power. This little ditty assembles avengers in the guise of Redbreast 12, rum, pineapple, black cardamom, aromatised wine, and oloroso.
It is also barrel-aged to a “hot damn that’s tasty” level. The zingy savoury flavours are genuinely next level. Finally, the much argued-over garnish ties it all together. It is a boozy cocktail that will not appeal to the Pornstar Martini drinkers of the world. Still, if you are a dry dirty martini person who is never impressed unless you’re drinking a high-end version of your go-to, this will change your mind. It might even make you interested in whiskey.
All of these cocktails have come together to make BAR 1661 a stalwart of my drinking repertoire. So get out and give them a try. But be sure to book first to be guaranteed an inside seat with the weather on the turn.
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