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Brahms & Liszt, London

The Hackney liquor store with an enthusiasm for the hard stuff and the obscure, and a try-before-you-buy policy

by Cajsa Carlson
on 03 April 2015
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For ages, the semi-secret, word-of-mouth Quiquiriqui Mezcal and 184 Hackney Road/Mezcaleria Quiquiriqui bars on East London’s Hackney Road were underground favorites for London’s liquor connoisseurs. Now the woman behind the mezcal-loving venues, Melanie Symonds, has opened a liquor shop—Brahms & Liszt—on Chatsworth Road, Clapton.

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At Brahms & Liszt, the focus is on the hard stuff. This is the place to come to for unusual liquor brands and special treats. Whether it’s sake, rye or tequila, this shop has it. Though the store is branded an “off-license” (a UK term which denotes that you can’t buy alcohol to drink on the premises), it’s a far cry from the run-down liquor shops you normally find on the British high streets.

Among Brahms & Liszt’s many brands are Arette Anejo Tequila, Pisco ABA, Del Maguey Mezcal and Jade Edouard Absinthe, as well as the company’s own Quiquiriqui mezcal, which is handcrafted and imported from Oaxaca in Mexico. Symonds opened the store “to give people a better choice when it comes to buying spirits, and because I love mezcal and want people to be able to have somewhere they can come and try it, buy it and love it,” she tells CH. “People who work in the industry have access to all these amazing brands, but there isn’t really anywhere for the public to go and buy them, apart for online or a few specialist shops in the West End.” Deciding on the area was easy, as Symonds has lived in Hackney for six years and likes Clapton’s mix of old and new. The ever-evolving area has seen a food and drink renaissance in recent years, and is already home to craft beer company Clapton Craft.

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The venue is also hosting tasting sessions and will let guests try the liquor before buying—either a dangerous idea, or the best sales pitch ever. The store's name, after all, is cockney rhyming slang for “pissed,” one of the many British expressions for being drunk. The cozy shop is kitted out with vintage furniture, and in the center of the room sits the big table that people gather around for the tasting sessions. All the in-store furniture and accessories are up for grabs, so you can get an old-fashioned liquor cabinet to stock your purchases in if you fancy. And the shop has its own cocktail-refill station—simply pick up a glass bottle, fill it with the cocktail of your choice (already blended and hanging from the wall in bottles), pay, and return for a refill when you need it.

Visitors who come to the store in the near future can expect lots of mezcal evenings, as well as cocktail masterclasses, a “make-your-own-gin” school, an insight into the world of vermouth with Regal Rogue, and life drawing with cocktails. In other words, plenty of events that will make drinking even more fun than it normally is.

Brahms & Liszt is located at 10 Chatsworth Road, E5 0LP.

First two images courtesy of Brahms & Liszt, final image by Cajsa Carlson

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