Holiday cocktails go from kitsch to world-class

Nothing beats drinking on holiday, and that’s especially true now that capital cities are upping their cocktail game. But that doesn't mean you should overlook bars in some of the traditional tourist traps or places more off the beaten track, says Joel Harrison

Words by Joel Harrison

le 300 bar at the maybourne riviera
Drinks are 'utterly beguiling' at Le 300 bar at the Maybourne Riviera, says Harrison

Is there anything better than holiday drinking? It could be beside the pool in a villa or sitting on a creaky bar stool at a bamboo beach bar: out-of-office activated, holiday-mode on, cooling cocktail in hand. As you sip slowly on a local libation, watching the sun set, you couldn’t be happier or more relaxed. And, oh, the drink! In the moment, it could be the best cocktail you have ever had – and that’s despite the fact it looks like a fruit salad in a glass. The rose-coloured lens while on vacation (or in the case of some of the holiday drinking experiences I’ve had, rosé-coloured) is always a hard one to transplant back home. Having a well-made Hurricane on holiday and under a clear blue sky is never quite the same when recreated in the back garden and beneath the clouds.

For some, the holiday drink experience is becoming as much a part of the planning as finding the best local beach – and for others, it’s the very reason to visit somewhere in the first place

Often, the drinks experience can be a bit of an afterthought on holiday; a mere garnish to enhance the getaway. However, for some it is becoming as much a part of the planning as finding the best local beach – and for others, it’s the very reason to visit somewhere in the first place, with ‘flavour tourism’ at an all-time high. After all, we know that great meals, and great drinks, create great memories (and let’s not forget great Instagram content). And thankfully, we now live in an age that says holidays can be about much more than simply getting away; they are about experiences. The days of heading off to somewhere sunny simply to sit in the Red Lion pub and devour a Sunday roast are, I do hope, fading.

melon, cheese, pepper cocktail at two schmucks
Barcelona is fast becoming a destination for those seeking drinks as impressive as the cocktails served at Two Schmucks

If flavour is important to you, you might firstly think of heading off on a city break, where food-and-drink offerings are more likely to be in abundance. Yes, top destinations such as London, Paris and New York have incredible venues catering to both indulgences – and if you’re a fan of mixed drinks, all three capitals should be on your hit list – but there are also cities that might not immediately appear on your radar as destinations for world-class drinking, such as Edinburgh, New Orleans and Barcelona. The latter is home to three venues in the World’s 50 Best Bars list – Paradiso, Two Schmucks and Sips – and will host this year’s ceremony in early October, such is the standard of mixology in the Catalan capital. A quick look across the current top 50 list also shows bars that make the grade from New Delhi to Dubai, Singapore to Sydney, showing that in whatever part of the planet you find yourself, there is usually a decent drink to be had within the culture capitals and major metropolises.

Drink and view at Le 300 bar
Top-notch cocktails with a backdrop of the French Riviera at Le 300 (Photo: Joel Harrison)

Think outside of the city, and the path can start to become a little rockier. But it can be equally as interesting for adventurous drinkers. Take, for example, Le 300 bar at the new Maybourne Riviera hotel, located in the hills high above the coastline between Monte Carlo and Menton. You can sip utterly beguiling, world-class concoctions while taking in a view that spans three countries (France, Italy and Monaco) at this off-the-beaten-track French venue. The backdrop of this stunning vista does nothing to take away from the lush libations, such as a take on a Paloma built on a base of Tequila infused with geranium leaves, and mixed with raspberry brandy, lime juice, agave syrup, rhubarb bitters and pink grapefruit soda.

The mere mention of drinking in Mallorca might send shivers down your spine, with visions of shots and bright-blue cocktails in Magaluf – a hangover, in all senses, from the resort’s Club 18-30 days. Yet one of my absolute top tips, if you find yourself on this increasingly classy island, is Chapeau 1987 in Palma de Mallorca, a bar where the cocktails compete at a level rarely seen on tourist islands. The menu is a thing of beauty, and in the true style of the age, the bar has an Instagram page with thirst-quenching photos and videos about each drink. The Eau de Punk (pictured below) looks elegant served in a coupe and garnished with three delicate drops of oil; it’s a grown-up drink that uses a gin base, with yellow Chartreuse, amontillado sherry, and brown butter, all topped off with a house-made perfume mist of sandalwood, leather and sumac. The drink is served at -23C degrees – so it’s not only delicious, but totally refreshing too.

The trend for great bars in holiday hot spots doesn’t stop here, either. Mixology maestro and industry legend Erik Lorincz, who’s been head bartender at a number of the world’s chart-topping bars, has relocated his London venue Kwãnt to a pop-up site in Ibiza. Need I convince you any further that your next holiday might not just be driven by the nearest decent beach?

What Joel has been drinking

  • It used to be hard to find good alternatives to booze without resulting to sugary soft drinks. However, I’ve fallen utterly in love with Saicho’s sparkling jasmine tea, which is at once floral, dry, flavoursome and grown-up. The base is a green tea from Fuding (in Fujian province, China), with jasmine added, and it carries notes of apple sherbet, lychee and vanilla.
  • As the summer sadly draws to a close, you can keep the spirit of sunshine going with a new English aperitif, Aker. A rosé-coloured collab between wine producer Chapel Down and the craft Cotswold distillery Capreolus, it’s a refreshing mix of rosé wine and raspberry eau-de-vie, flavoured with English botanicals, including wormwood. Delightful and delicious, simply lengthen with tonic or soda water.
  • My whisky of choice this month comes from the Scottish Lowlands and the 205-year-old distillery, Bladnoch. Its latest release is a delicious 30-year-old single malt matured in a combination of oloroso sherry and moscatel casks. The result is a brilliant bouquet of floral notes with dried apricot and nutmeg, followed by a palate rich in nutty flavours, Seville orange and spices. Its long finish is light and fruity with a hint of cracked black pepper. The release is limited to 900 bottles at £1,000 a go.
Joel Harrison
By Joel Harrison

Joel Harrison is an award-winning spirits writer, and spirits consultant for Club Oenologique.