The cocktail has, in my opinion, been on an upward trajectory for a few years, and the job of bartender, or mixologist has finally been recognised as a very skilled, creative role in hospitality.
Studies are showing that people, especially Gen Z, are drinking less but being more mindful when they do have a tipple.
While the latest figures from the NHS suggest that a third of people under 25 have not drunk alcohol for at least a year, those that track trends in drinks are saying that next-gen drinkers are embracing a ‘less but better’ approach.
This goes hand in hand with the resurgence (and appreciation of) the cocktail bar and a good, well made and creative drink. Scotland now has five in the Top 50 in the UK, with Edinburgh’s Panda & Sons making it into the Top 50 Cocktail Bars in the World.
Owner Iain McPherson has noticed that “people are asking for really niche products and niche cocktails – and I think it's a great thing.” While it’s this capital bar that’s on the world stage, the Glasgow bar scene is not to be missed, with Absent Ear and Lunar making the UK list earlier this year (The Gate in the East End looks to be getting a look in for 2024).
As it’s the season for a good drink (be it alcohol or non-boozy), we decided to visit Lunar - a cocktail and wine bar - to try some concoctions on their new winter menu.
Opened in late 2022 on the former site of Nivens on Nithsdale Road in the Strathbungo area of Glasgow’s southside, Lunar is from the team behind popular West End beer shop Grunting Growler. It’s a cosy space, with the bar dominating the room.
The tables are glowing with tealights and the lightning is low, giving it a welcoming air in this cold, wet night. We’re warmly greeted and, as it’s early on a Saturday, we get a table no problem (Lunar has a walk-in basis only, no bookings). It’s also very dog-friendly, with the right hand wall by the door dedicated to four legged visitor’s pictures.
Once we’re settled, and Archie has his bowl and water and shot glass of gravy bones, we take a look at the menu and specials. The drinks at Lunar change regularly (the menu says with the lunar cycle) but all are highly creative, with many using seasonal ingredients (and others with ingredients you may need to Google if you’re not as hot on your mixology as these guys are).
To start I went for the special, named Like a Kid in a Candy Shop. It was a shaken mix of amaro montenegro, strawberry infused discarded banana rum, homemade lime sherbet, and antica formula carpano vermouth and was a well balanced sweet and sour drink (served with an old school fizzy shoelace) that tasted for all the world like fizzy cola cubes.
My boyfriend went for the short, Over the Smoke drink which contained mezcal, ancho chilli, tequila blanco, coffee bean and cacao nib tea.
A real smoky drink with hints of coffee and chocolate, the garnish here was a chocolate dipped tortilla chip which was a revelation. We then went on to order the herbal Superfood cocktail made with chestnut honey, reposado tequila, rooibos and ambrato vermouth and Fir and Frost, a negroni style drink which contained Edinburgh Cannonball gin, cranberry, Campari, pine and lemon verbena.
It was when ordering our third round (well, tis the season) that we also ordered a big jar of olives and a big jar of habas fritatas which, after a Google, we realised were roasted and salted broad beans.
The olives, a mix of gordal and what looked like nocellara olives, were a generous potion served, as the name suggests, in a large Kilner jar. The habas fritatas were crispy, salty and exactly what you want and need when enjoying a cocktail or two.
Which leads us on to some other drinks, the intriguing Nectar, made with ‘irn bru’, Scotch whisky, fermented apple (carbonated),comes with an image of a Scottish legend attached to the glass (we got Lewis Capaldi) and Breakfast in Bed - sweetened cognac, fermented cereal oat milk, clarified (described as intriguing, silky and velvety).
I thought this was going to be far too sweet but it wasn’t. Served in a grey, ceramic glass and topped with two shreddies, it had some sweetness but was more rounded and flavourful.
Finally we ended with a pickleback - tequila followed with pickled watermelon (sounds strange but proved that not all tequilas are created equally, and that pickled watermelon, while may not smell very nice, is actually very tasty) and the vegan coconut cream ‘Bailey’s.
With an excellent wine list and mocktails that look as good as their boozy cousins, there’s no excuse not to visit, even if you’re doing dry January.