Neil Sowerby sips his first negroni of spring at Manchester's future classic
It feels like a deft splash of decadence – the first post-lockdown negroni of spring. A stirring moment, then a glinting tumbler of bittersweet, ruby goodness.
Welcome to Joe and Daniel Schofield’s eponymous bar, reclaiming in classic liquid form the Art Deco vibe of its debut home, Sunlight House.
They’re serious about what they serve but no punter’s going to get intimidated
The revamped 70-cover interior is unrecognisable from its days as Liz Dawn’s Old Grapes. I only get a tempting glimpse. We’re still in alfresco, stay safe mode, so I’m out on a terrace table with the Bury-born brothers whose globetrotting CVs qualify them for cocktail "Super League" status.
Joe was the first person to be named both International Bartender of The Year in the Tales of The Cocktail Spirited Awards and Bartender’s Bartender at The World’s 50 Best Bars 2018. He's worked at the American Bar at The Savoy, as well as worldly establishments in Singapore, Sydney, and Melbourne, while Daniel has tended bars in Paris and London, latterly as assistant bar manager at the Francophile Coupette in Bethnal Green.
The Savoy was where the duo launched their acclaimed Schofield’s Fine and Classic Cocktails book, surrounded by the great and good of the cocktail world, around the time Joe became creative director at posh London drinks innovators Asterley Brothers.
The Schofield’s Dry Vermouth he crafted with them is in the negronis we are sipping, along with equal measures of Campari and Star of Bombay gin.
A separate shot of the vermouth showcases the 28 English botanicals that infuse a wine base from English Bacchus, Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc grapes.
“The other night it was voted second best (Gold) dry vermouth on the planet in the 2021 World Vermouth Awards,” Joe slips in casually. Wow! I can well understand why. On the nose, it’s all white flowers with oodles of citrussy charm on the palate – unlike standard vermouths a perfect tipple on its own with just a splash of soda.
The Asterley Estate sweet vermouth (its wine base Pinot Noir from Kent superstars Gusborne) picks up world no.3 in its category. Quite a roll. It too is stunning. So you go along to check out a cocktail list and end up purring over the constituent parts. Just like restaurant dishes, the devil is in the detail. Keen sourcing and sympathetic alchemy of the parts are key.
At this point, spoiler alert: if your own tipple urge runs to a melange of pink gin, strawberry liqueur and marshmallow syrup, garnished with a jazzy flump, pass on by.
A five-minute saunter across Spinningfields and the new Clubhouse is majoring in the zanier end of the cocktail spectrum.
Cocktails are such a broad church then but Schofield’s is no high temple to mixology. There’s zero swank about the boys. Lots of understated charm, in fact. They’re serious about what they serve but no punter’s going to get intimidated. That was obvious in the interview Joe gave to Confidentials three years ago when he outlined plans for the first bar of their own. Such a long gestation since - not helped by Covid.
The aim is to be an all-round haven with regulars choosing between standing at the bar or chilling in the lounge area with whatever takes their drinks fancy – from coffee (Joe has already poured me a rich mocha mixture from a "secret" Italian recipe that’s like a cappuccino on steroids) to beer (a work in progress), great spirits (naturally) and a bijou but attractive wine list (go for the Maximin Grünhaus Riesling at £8 a glass).
Oh, and there’s Krug at £195, if you must.
As with the takeaway service that heralded their quiet arrival on the scene, the bar is offering charcuterie and cheese plates, sourced from 3 Hands deli across Deansgate in the Great Northern and the NQ’s Butcher’s Quarter in Tib Street.
Still, the bedrock of the list is 12 cocktail classics, including that near-perfect negroni plus a further dozen more eclectic offerings set to mutate every three months.
Those details again. Peer through the ice block in your cocktail and you’ll see - emblazoned on the mat beneath - the yoked glasses that represent the brothers' brand. The ice itself, pure and crystal clear, comes from Chas Ayres’ cutting edge Black Ice CPD Ltd. A quiet read while communing with your tipple? The Schofields have hand-picked a shelf full of literary devotees of the cocktail (and not just the inevitable Hemingway).
All this would be mere window dressing if the cocktails didn’t live up to the legend.
Schofield's Bar 3 Little Quay St, Manchester M3 3JZ
Open Wed-Fri 9am-11pm; Sat-Sun 10am-11pm; closed Mon-Tue.
Currently offering takeaway with table service on the terrace from 11am restricted to 40 covers. Walk-in only.
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Here are five that said a big hi on my maiden visit
The brothers have spanned the globe in their spirit quests, even taking in the Amazon, but New Orleans is a definite favourite. For that city’s quintessential cocktail I went down the brandy-based route, here Hennessy VS Cognac, herbaceous and unctuous thanks to anise, bitters and lemon oil. (£10.50)
Another, far from traditional, brandy features in this sparkling cocktail. The brainchild of Joel Fraser, whose bartending career began in Alderley Edge, Seven Tails XO blends Cognac, Armagnac and maverick brandy from another region, the mix given extra fruitiness by resting in port casks. You’ll find its jazzy bottle behind the bar at The Savoy and Soho House. Here the spirit jostles for attention with the strong flavours of Palo Cortado sherry and the typical brioche notes of Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut. (£12)
The boys’ own description sums it up: “A floral riff on the ever-iconic Old Fashioned”. All thanks to dry cherry and orange bitters. (£10.50)
The Bourbon in the Fancy Free is the widely available Woodford Reserve. Here it’s a further example of their liquor collabs – the product of a trip to the spirit’s Kentucky heartland. Made to their own specifications and given nine months in seared oak, you won’t find Schofield’s Maker’s Mark Private Select Bourbon in any other bar. Just lemon and honey with it and utterly delectable. (£9.50)
The £10.50 version on the Classic menu possesses remarkable subtlety. To compare I took home their bottled version, which substitutes Rhubarb Grey Goose Vodka for the gin. It’s different, punchier. I think I’ll stay Classic. Which is what Schofield’s is all about.