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Bartender's Choice Dan Smithson, Smokestack

Where the stars behind the bars reveal their favourite drinks

Bartender's Choice: Dan Smithson, Smokestack

You’re standing at a bar. Grizzly old timers smoke cigars and drink neat rum either side of you; wisps of smoke carry mellow jazz through the air. The bartender places a tumbler of spirit in front of you, followed by a bowl of sugar and a lime. He leans forward, pulls up his sleeves and reveals words tattooed across his forearms: Chacun Prepare Sa Propre Mort. You mix your own drink and hand over the cash.

This might have been the scene at a backstreet bar in the Caribbean, many years ago. The phrase Chacun Prepare Sa Propre Mort means Each Prepares His Own Death or, in other words, the bartender won’t take liability for the blow-your-socks-off spirit he’s serving, but feel free to mix it yourself and take your chances.

Fortunately, the folks at Smokestackon Lower Briggate take rather more care of their customers. But general manager Dan just happens to have that very tattoo imprinted across his forearms. He explains the story behind it: "I found out it was the method of how they administered rum to the locals in Martinique because they realised they were pulling off the rum at the wrong temperature and it was making people blind or killing them, so bartenders were getting arrested."

Dan used the same ‘take your own chances’ approach at a cocktail competition here in Leeds, when he’d actually made his own absinthe to use at the competition and was unsure of its exact alcohol content.

When making the absinthe, he made the discovery that when water was added to this notorious spirit, it brought out a noticeable apricot-type flavour in it, leading him to realise it would mix nicely with certain fruity liqueurs. He also tells us that he discovered he wasn’t able to "louche" the La Fée absinthe he was using at the time – by this he essentially means the caramelising reaction that occurs when you light the spirit – so he switched to Pernod Absinthe, and fortunately it all came together. After a little more tinkering, the Perfect Paradox cocktail was born.

Dan makes us the drink, busting one or two myths as he goes along ("a lot of people say with a Sour that you need to dry shake the egg white to make sure it gets frothy and meringue-like, but that’s a massive myth – if you give it a hard enough shake you won’t need to"). The resulting cocktail shows a clever use of flavours that absinthe lovers should certainly appreciate, with a subtle peachiness mingling with the fairly hefty aniseed hit of the spirit. And the cocktail looks the part too.

But with the absinthe coming in at a whopping 68%abv, we’d advise you to go steady with this one – and then you’ll live to tell the tale.


Drink: Perfect Paradox

Ingredients: 1½ shots Edmond Briottet Crème de Peche; 1 shot lemon juice; 1 egg white; sugar; ½ shot Pernod Absinthe; fine strained then drizzled with Angostura Bitters and sprig of mint

Price: £6

Posted on Wednesday 11th January 2012


159a Lower Briggate, Leeds, LS1 6LY

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