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Published:  23 July, 2008

Alex Kammerling, IPBartenders, London. Interview: Josie Butchart

IPBartenders Unit 114 Buspace Studios Conlan Street, London W10 5AP

Tel: 020 8962 2752

Alex Kammerling works for IPBartenders, a London-based bartender training and drinks consultancy, and has been in the drinks business for 11 years. He has created signature cocktails for brands such as Stolichnaya vodka, Wray and Nephew rum, Campari, Drambuie and for bar chain TGI Fridays, as well as working the bar at high-profile parties including Elton John's summer party and film premieres for Moulin Rouge and Love Actually. He combines bartending and drinks writing (for Class Magazine, Square Meal, the Sauce guides and Time Out) with his work as a sculptor. His new book Blend Me, Shake Me! 101 Hip New Cocktails has just been published by BBC Books, priced at 12.99.

Why did you start mixing cocktails? I never wanted to be a bartender - I always wanted to be an artist, and I still do really, but I have been working in bars for 11 years now and just really enjoy it. I started working as a bartender when I was 18 to fund my art course, then I went travelling and worked in bars in Hong Kong and Australia. When I returned to London I just happened to walk into a bar set up by Dick Bradell, the Obi-Wan Kenobi of bartending. I didn't know much about cocktails then but I could see immediately that the drinks were more considered. It was more like a chef's mentality. The drink was not just something to look nice or get you pissed - it was something to enjoy and savour, like a fine wine, Cognac or a good meal. They were putting a lot of effort into the drinks, using fresh fruit flavours and high quality spirits.

How does UK bartending compare to what you've experienced elsewhere? London definitely leads the way in terms of cocktail culture. When I got back to London I was really amazed to see how seriously bartenders took cocktails. However, when I arrived in Australia I was amazed to see how seriously they took coffee! I thought I knew how to make a cappuccino, but they hated my coffee. So I learnt to make a decent coffee in Australia and really got into it. Then I moved back here and really got into the cocktail scene.

How do you rate America, the home of the cocktail? The Americans invented the cocktail but American bartenders are really concerned about speed of service - they've got so wrapped up in speed that they've forgotten about quality. I think the British need to take a leaf out of the Americans' book and learn more of the classic cocktails, but the Americans need to get with the contemporary programme.

What's the ultimate cocktail? I don't really have a favourite cocktail because it is always a different drink for each different occasion, but you can't beat a frozen gin Martini. I always keep the glasses and gin in the freezer and serve it with a twist of lemon. Frozen spirits are wonderful to drink because they are icy cold on the lips, but then warm up as they go down so you get this lovely flavour coming out in the mouth. You can only have one because you get so drunk on them, but what a great way to drink! And they look beautiful - there's something sexy about it. Although of course it isn't actually even a cocktail because it has only two ingredients

How do you define a cocktail? It's got to have three ingredients or more, but there are loads of cocktails that only have two ingredients. That's a whole bag of worms!

Which spirit do you most enjoy using in cocktails? Well, vodka is the spirit that everyone asks for - it is really easy to use because it's just a blank canvas. All the other ingredients you add give the flavour to the cocktail. But I don't like working with vodka because it's too neutral, and I like to have a flavour to start with. When I create drinks I think: this Tequila has a little bit of spiciness or a herbaceous quality - what will go with that? I really like working with gin. I think it will be the next big spirit in terms of popularity.

Why did you decide to write Blend Me, Shake Me! 101 Hip New Cocktails? The idea was a book with completely original recipes and drinks for every occasion that directs the drinker a little more, in the same way the bartender is there to guide you in a bar. I didn't want recipes that used loads of ingredients people can't get hold of, so I just went down to my local supermarket and bought what was there and made cocktails from those ingredients. Also, the photography was very important. All the cocktails are photographed at my house. I had a barbecue, invited all friends round and made cocktails. I didn't want just an A-Z listing. I wanted to give cocktails more personality. This book is completely about the consumer. If people want to find out about the history of the Martini they can buy The Art of the Cocktail. I wanted it to be easy reading, not serious.

You must experience some great parties with IPBartenders. The last party I did was for art dealer Jay Jopling at his house. It was very cool. Hugh Grant and Liz Hurley were there. It was very celebrity-packed.

Have you ever been surprised by a celebrity's order? Robert De Niro ordered a vodka straight up, just on ice, which I thought was a bit odd. Normally if you are going to have vodka neat you'd have it in a Martini or something like that. But generally at the sort of parties we do there is free alcohol, and they are sponsored by a brand, so there is usually a set menu of cocktails. I've never really had an open bar where people could go for anything they wanted because they would all just ask for Champagne!