Slovakian Rusty Cerven – resident bartender at London’s Connaught Hotel – stole the title of 2013 Bols Around the World Champion with his oh-so-classy William’s Punch. Rusty Cerven lets GH into some of his cocktail secrets in this exclusive Q&A.
Name three can’t-do-without items for any good cocktail bar.
Myself behind the bar! Otherwise, my first item would be a measurer, then some mixing glasses and a shaker.
What pushes a cocktail from so-so to outstanding?
It is the whole package, the presentation of what you offer and what vessel you use. Of course the ingredients are important. And a big role is the story behind each cocktail, about why you created it.
Cocktails are generally seen as luxury drinks. Is quality always relative to expense, or can you offer some cost-cutting advice?
There’s no such thing that when it’s a good cocktail it needs to be expensive and when it’s cheap it’s bad. It’s all about how you prepare it. I can do good drinks with cheaper ingredients. Of course there are premium spirits, which have better flavours and which play a role in the final taste, but it’s mainly about the bartender. Just focus on the preparation and having a good balance of flavours, and try use local ingredients.
What one ingredient should you never compromise on?
Ice is essential to every drink we do, unless of course we do hot versions! Do you really enjoy it when you come to the bar and there are warm drinks on the table? No. It may have a good balance, but without ice it will still be warm.
What are the latest cocktail trends?
There’s been a boom of speakeasies and prohibition-themed bars in past years. Last year was, for me, the year of garnishes. What I saw was bigger, extended focus for the garnishing of each cocktail, and the different ways to serve garnish. Lately I feel upcoming trends of going back to the basics, to the simplicity of the drinks, and a better focus on the quality of each ingredient … either a small batch or handcrafted productions, or home-made syrups or preparations, the things all these artisanal producers are doing now. They can do it much better than the factories, and it tastes much fresher.
And finally, of all the cities in the world, tell us why you chose to visit Cape Town as part of your Bols Around the World tour.
I wanted to explore something I hadn’t had the chance to before. For me, Cape Town was really exciting, because I had heard a lot of good things about this town – and this country – from friends of mine. So I really wanted to see how beautiful it is, and to come over … and I love it! First, I love the weather – as you can see probably – and then what I found is that people are smiling everywhere. I feel a great vibe in this city.
For more info on cocktail techniques, visit www.bols.com.
This post first appeared on Good Housekeeping South Africa on 22 January 2014