The third Budvar Hoptail in the series takes us to Bristol and the awesome interiors of Milk Thistle, where decadence-themed décor meets historic architecture and awesome cocktails. Priding themselves on being purveyors of the finest cocktails not only in the city but the whole southwest, the team here are drinks nerds and central to their ethos is the homemade ingredient; the guys here create their own mixers and syrups, including an awesome Falernum – an over-proof rum base mixer that is steeped with cloves and spices.
Heading the Milk Thistle talent list is master mixologist and assistant manager, Michael Sharpe, whose passion for craft, ingredients and quality explains why the house beer here is Budweiser Budvar. He’s created the hoptail ‘Hive Minds’, a Heston Blumenthal-like reinvention of the much-maligned ‘Lagerita’ that plays off the sweet, honey tones of Budvar. Shaking up fresh lime, Tequila, Yellow Chartreuse, apricot liqueur, homemade Falernum and honey with cold Budvar and crushed ice, the Hive Minds is sophisticated, sweet, slightly sour and seriously more-ish. But don’t just take our word for it. Head down to Milk Thistle to try one or have a go yourself.
I'm assistant manager at Milk Thistle in Bristol. I like to think of myself as a modern day Odysseus, but as my grandmother used to say, “we'd all like to write our own reviews”. I never did understand her. As well as creating great cocktails and striving to better the bars I work in, I also pretend to sing, and attempt to write, with varying degrees of success.How long have you been bartending?
I've been working in bars for ten years and making cocktails for seven of those. I started work at The Milk Thistle in Bristol before spells as head bartender at Hyde and Co., Hausbar, The Ox and then back here to co-run Milk Thistle. The trophy cabinet is healthy: as well as personal national competition victories, Milk Thistle won “Best Bar” at the Bristol Lifestyle Awards and I took home an award for “Best Chat”, although I think this was largely out of pity.Tell us about Milk Thistle. How long has it been open? What’s the ethos?
Nearly seven years. The ethos has remained the same since day one. Namely, to create an elegant and attractive drinking venue, that serves exceptional drinks in a non-pretentious atmosphere. We will never patronise or be snooty. We’re all about giving you the best drinks.It’s an amazing building. What’s the history?
The building was originally the headquarters of the Merchant Venturers, a trade group operating in Bristol centuries back. While they weren't necessarily Masonic in nature, the building does feel a lot like a Masonic lodge. Post that, it has been a number of gentleman’s clubs, as well as a secret underground oil wrestling arena (no joke) and a Mexican restaurant.
Milk Thistle is said to be a plant that helps the liver following a big drinking session. I thought this particularly ironic, as we are so often the cause of a hefty hangover. My advice: have a Margarita and a packet of Hula Hoops and you'll be fighting fit.Why do you think beer cocktails are on the rise?
Beer has been on the rise for many years now, and it seems that people are now starting to marry different sub-sections together. A huge foundation of flavour lies in the world of beer, so it seemed only natural that cocktail nerds and mixologists would want to try working with more left-field yet well-known flavours.How did you come up with the ‘Hive Minds’?
I wanted to change people’s perceptions when it came to using beer as a cocktail ingredient, as well as the concept of beer cocktails generally. And there’s no better beer to do that with than Budweiser Budvar. The Hive Minds was also intended to riff on that classic cheeseball cocktail, the 'Lagerita'. Simple, but misunderstood. Like me. I wanted to take it to a whole new place, making it truly quality and delicious and incorporating the honey notes of Budvar and all these great, crafted ingredients, like Chartreuse and Falernum.What is the ethos behind the drink? What’s the name about?
I started with the ‘B’ of Budvar and thought ‘B’, bees, honey. This chimed with the honey notes and slightly bitter-sweetness I found in Budvar’s taste as well as celebrating the time, tradition and hard work that goes into its making. Here at Milk Thistle we have a similar approach, putting together our cocktails of homemade ingredients like worker bees, inside the massive hive that is this building. It made me think about people bringing flavour together when making a product, just as is done with Budvar in the Czech Republic. Two entities with the same methodology. Hence, Hive Minds.
It's great to have a house beer that is not only delicious and seriously chin-able, but also reputable and incredibly well made with a depth of flavour and dedication to brewing that you just don’t find in many other ‘recognisable’ brands of beer.You guys make a lot of your own ingredients. Tell us about that.
We've enjoyed homemaking ingredients for years. It just allows for a greater degree of flavour combinations than can be easily found in standard syrups. Plus, once you have good systems in place, they're a breeze to make, and utterly controllable by the bar.What one tip would you give about making a great cocktail?
Make sure it's nice. That sounds like ridiculous advice but some people get so caught up in showcasing wacky flavours, that they fail to make an actual drink that works. You should be able to drink a few of them in a row without getting sick of them.
Or maybe, always stir for longer than you think. That’s a bit nerdy, but true.
HIVE MINDS(Makes one)
1 can of Budweiser Budvar Original
20ml lime juice
10ml apricot liqueur
15ml Yellow Chartreuse
5ml honey syrup
Slice of lime and rose petals for garnish
Mix fresh lime juice with the Tequila, apricot liqueur, Yellow Chartreuse, Falernum and honey in a shaker. Add ice, cover and shake well.
Add 50ml Budweiser Budvar Original. Strain all into a half-pint dimple glass, filled with cubed ice.
Top with crushed ice, petals and a wheel of lime.