British mixologists Dave Tragenza and Chris Edwards are solving the world’s ills, one drink at a time. Just step up to the bar and tell them what ails you, and they’ll prescribe the perfect cocktail.
Drinking is all about sharing good times with friends and Tragenza and Edwards practice what they preach. Following years of experience in the London drink and food scene, the teamed up to create a drinks consultancy called Salts of the Earth before opening two bars together--South London’s The Shrub & Shutter and The First Aid Box in Herne Hill. The reference to the famed Rolling Stones song, "Salt of the Earth" is a nod to Tragenza early work as a musician. He quotes the lines, “Let's drink to the hard working people / Let's drink to the lowly of birth / Raise your glass to the good and the evil / Let's drink to the salt of the earth,” and continues, “We just thought the line, ‘Raise a glass’ was us. We didn’t want to take ourselves too seriously.”
When they opened The First Aid Box, they asked themselves, “How can we make cocktails fun, but also use some nice, healthy ingredients?” While the book is full of creative photography and quips and jokes about the cocktails, it’s both “an appreciation of how the classics should be adored and adhered to, and how you can twist them and have fun with them at home.” Several of the recipes in the books include shrubs—as well as instructions on how to make them.
For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, Tragenza explains that the word shrub is from Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book, originally published in 1930. “A shrub is basically infused vinegar—equal parts white wine vinegar or cider vinegar, sugar and water,” Tragenza mentions. “With a cold infusion, you’ll have herbs and stuff that if they get too hot or too cold, they won’t look very pretty. You want to keep it at room temperature. A hot infusion with this vinegar extracts the flavor of all these wonderful herbs, spices and vegetables or fruits. It’s a little bit of Scandinavian fermentation or pickling, to survive you through the winter months." He adds, “Instead of using lemon juice, lime juice or grapefruit, you have this amazing flavored vinegar that can either be mint or fennel or beet root or apple…all these different flavors.”
The Doctor’s Orders book features impressive photos by Giles Christopher, and Tragenza confirms that they reflect the cocktails’ actual presentation at The First Aid Box. He says, “It’s all about seeing how far you can take it without people thinking it’s too much of a gimmick.” One cocktail in the book is called the Sazerac to the Future, a classic cognac and absinthe-based New Orleans cocktail. Tragenza goes on, "We lay vodka on the table and make fire trails up to the drink. The vodka that we use for the table is 88 percent, and the speed they had to go to in Back to the Future was 88 miles per hour. It’s a bit of theater."
He emphasizes that while the over-the-top visuals may attract customers, he and Edwards are primarily concerned with creating tasty cocktails. The First Aid Box even includes a menu item for indecisive customers, called The Waiting Room. Tragenza says if customers aren’t sure what they want, he and Edwards will ask for three words of inspiration. “You could say, ‘Sleepy, mezcal, and liveliness,’ and we’ll make you something. I’ve had some silly ones, like ‘Snoop Dogg, spliff, and weed’ and I made a little hemp extract cocktail using things we had in the bar.”
Speaking of cannabis, Tragenza is fascinated by how differently marijuana and alcohol are viewed in England and in the United States. “Here, smoking weed makes you lethargic and boring, and you have no get up and go. Alcohol is about going out and having fun. Across the pond, people smoke weed all the time, but if you have alcohol at 3 PM, it’s considered a bit of a problem. There is no right or wrong. Over there, people are legalizing marijuana, but in Brixton people are getting arrested for having a ten-bag of weed on them,” he says, adding, “I always find that really interesting, because there’s no right or wrong with it, apart from legislation.”
Tragenza and Edwards shared one of the Doctor’s Orders recipes with Playboy readers, and it’s a good one. Tragenza says, “The Thirst Aid is served in a drip bag, like an intravenous blood bag, but it's a little bit strange with the herbal colors and flavors going through it.” Where would a home bartender find drip bags? “Amazon is a wonderful thing,” Tragenza laughs.
A nuclear and herbalist smoky gin sour.
Doctor’s Orders: development, wisdom, antiseptic
Vitamins & Minerals: vitamin C
Style/Tasting Notes: nuclear, smoky, herbal
Glass/Vessel: drip bag or highball
Perfect Serve: Star of Bombay Gin
• 2 oz dry gin
• 1/3 oz smoky mescal
• 1/3 oz Green Chartreuse
• 5 fresh sage leaves
• 5 fresh mint leaves
• 5 oz fresh or store-bought pineapple juice (not from concentrate)
• 1 oz fresh lemon juice
• ¾ oz elderflower cordial
Multiply the recipe quantities by the number of drinks you would like to make. Add all the ingredients to a large storage jar, stir and leave all the flavors to infuse for 10 minutes before straining the herbs from the mix. Then fill drip bags individually, if using, and refrigerate until ready for serving. To serve, add drip bag to stand and roll over to the patient. Alternatively, simply pour the mix into highball glasses.