Ben Croake is a bartender who knows how to please. You can trust him to make a delicious drink – he’s been shaking drinks since age 17. “My mum showed me this Tom Cruise film, Cocktail,” he recalls, with enthusiasm. “I was like, ‘Damn, gimme a bit of that hippy hippy shake!’”
While he’s worked the bar of many distinguished British institutions, his most salubrious job was a five-month stint as personal bartender on a luxury yacht. “It was just the most surreal experience of my life,” he says. “I was working as a topless waiter at a private function for a 40th birthday. I’d only ever done a couple of these, by the way. The pay was amazing. It was like a Midsummer Night’s Dream scene. I was painted gold. This woman came up to me and said, ‘Have you ever thought about working on boats?’ I said, ‘No. I’ve never thought about that in my life.’ Two weeks later, I did some training, and before you know it, I was in Lisbon on a boat.”
Anyway, he’s currently serving a term of duty at Johnny’s Green Room above King & Godfree, where he’s creating out-of-the-box cocktails with a new Capi range, Soda+ – which, by his account, tastes much better than mixers from a soda gun. “It’s just so much nicer coming out of a bottle,” he says. (It’s also sugar-free, making it lighter than your regular mixer.)
Capi is locally produced, which is central to Croake’s ethos. It’s why he recommends an Australian gin for his Summer Smash cocktail recipe below – preferably Victoria’s Hippocampus Jungle Gin, if you can find it. “It draws on Southeast Asian flavours – it’s got some lemongrass in there, some Thai spices,” he says. “I thought that would pair quite well with bitter lemon and basil.”
Makes 1 serving. Approx. 1.5 standard drinks
2 slices lemon
3 slices cucumber
45ml Australian gin
Capi Soda+ Lemon and Basil
Add lemon slices and cucumber slices to a shaker and muddle. Add gin and ice, shake and strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice. Top off with Capi Soda+ Lemon and Basil. Garnish with a long lemon twist and cucumber ribbon.
The next cocktail Croake suggests, the Toronja Highball, is a simple pleasure. “People love a Paloma,” he says. “This is a bit of a twist on that. You’ve got the grapefruit and rosemary [soda], which I think is a lovely flavour. It’s not over-complicated.”
Croake suggests not using a darker spirit in this drink. “I think if you were going to use a darker tequila, it would muddle the flavours a little too much,” he advises.
Makes 1 serving. Approx. 1.4 standard drinks
45ml blanco tequila
125ml Capi Soda+ Grapefruit and Rosemary
1 slice of grapefruit
1 fresh rosemary sprig
Add tequila and ice to a Collins glass. Top off with Capi Soda+ Grapefruit and Rosemary. Garnish with grapefruit half wheel and fresh rosemary sprig.
Croake has spent more than his fair share of time cruising (literally) around the Mediterranean. It’s his experienced observation that many Italians prefer their aperitif with a savoury garnish. “In Italy, they serve Aperol Spritz with a couple of olives,” he says.
While we might not be quite ready for such a radical reinvention of this summertime favourite, Croake believes we can move in its (tasty) direction with the help of Capi Soda+ Blood Orange and Sage, which he uses in the Senza Spritz. “They’re not your normal flavours,” he says. “Sage is a really, really powerful herb.”
“It’s just a nice twist on an Aperol Spritz. It’s something people can instantly recognise.”
Makes 1 serving. Approx. 0.4 standard drinks
10ml orange juice
125ml Capi Soda+ Blood Orange and Sage
1 fresh mint sprig
Add Aperol, orange juice and ice to a wine glass. Top off with Capi Soda+ Grapefruit and Rosemary. Garnish with sprig of fresh mint.
This article was produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Capi.