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March 27, 2023

The elusive ‘Drop of the Desert’ cocktail

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One for the connoisseurs: Jono with his elusive ‘Drop of the Desert’, a ‘serious cocktail’ that tastes even better than it looks on Instagram.

Simon Haslam

What does it take to produce the winning cocktail in a competition held in Byron in the middle of summer? A fair bit of thought, and what some would call hard work. Jono Samuelsson, bar manager at Loft Byron Bay, has certainly had a lot of cocktail-making practice, but the minimalist tequila-based creation he dubbed ‘Drop of the Desert’ isn’t the sort of cocktail he’d normally serve over the busy bar, being a bit more on the ‘serious’ end of the scale, as he puts it.

‘When it comes to creating cocktails, I like to work with our chefs, who have a wealth of knowledge about flavour pairings,’ says Jono. ‘They also know how to best extract the flavours from different vegetables or fruits. This competition was sponsored by Pernod Ricard, using their Altos Plata Tequila, and our Head Chef Juan suggested, in keeping with the Mexican theme, that I use a special cactus, the Nopales, which I sourced from local exotic fruit growers Picone Exotics, and then clarified.’

‘The cactus, when it’s cooked, reminds you of green beans or asparagus, but its uncommon, subtle, slightly bitter flavour really comes together very well in balance with the rest of the ingredients. The Altos range also includes a reposado, but I used the plata tequila, which I combined with Yellow Chartreuse, a very herbaceous botanical liqueur made using a secret recipe of 130 different herbs, along with clarified lime juice, grapefruit juice and salt.  

‘Clarifying the citrus juices just makes the cocktail look better, less murky, and also changes the texture of the cocktail so you’re drinking a completely clear cocktail. Overall, the look of the cocktail is minimalist and elegant; I just cut a small coin from the cactus leaf and put that on top of a clear ice cube as a garnish. It’s a bit fussy to make at home, especially the process of blanching the cactus, blending and clarifying, but the result was pretty good!’

But will the cocktail make the cut and join the ten ‘signature’ cocktails that complement dozens of ‘classics’ at the busy bar? Well, no – as apparently the process of creating a cocktail list involves a lot more than drinking them or, dare I say, writing about them.

‘Will it make our cocktail list?’ Jono laughs. ‘The whole team, even past bartenders, have had input into that list, and it tends to respond to the crowd – at the moment we feature easy-drinking hot weather cocktails, but we also have some more serious drinks for the connoisseurs; I try to make it a versatile list, so that most people coming in find something that they enjoy. Because of the large number of customers, we get a lot of feedback about what people like, but we also have a lot of sales data, which we review on a regular basis to make sure we’ve got the mix right. Whilst we have wines and beers, cocktails are our most popular drink – I think it also has something to do with their presentation; they look more exciting on your social media feed than a glass of pinot noir!’

Since ‘serious cocktail’ is something of an oxymoron, I’m sure that while ‘Drop of the Desert’ may prove elusive for now, that won’t trouble too many people in the party mood this summer.


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