Cane & Grain
Cane & Grain
Stylebible goes to Manchester
Cane & Grain is a peculiar place. Inside it looks like a typical modern Manchester bar, from the modernist layout to the excellent range of thirst-quenching options that lie the other side of the bar: a solid range of spirits, plenty of funky craft beers, a wine menu stocked with rich reds and spicy whites. But the ground-floor bar does feel like that place you visited last week with your mates – or was it the week before? It’s loud and brash and confident, but nothing special.
So we wandered upstairs in search of our reservations, but went too far, winding up in the second-floor Liars Lounge, which was liberally festooned with thirty-something men acting like American college girls on Spring Break. Barmen doled out buckets of chilled Corona beer to patrons grooving to Olly Murs or lounging around on the bamboo-themed Love Island furniture. The entire place seemed to be undergoing a massive mid-life crisis.
Ah, but then we descend a single storey, and wandered into the First Floor Bar. Suddenly, the world felt and looked a whole lot better. The air was cleaner and purer, the discourse set to “civilised hum” rather than “jetplane-roar”. A beaming waitress bounced up and took our coats and our reservation. We sidled up to the bar in search of Cane & Grain’s chief bartender, Massimo, and placed ourselves in his very capable hands.
Now, most really good bartenders are supremely confident and rightly so. Channeling a tumult of taste into a single vessel is a challenge beyond all but the best of us, meaning that the universe of people genuinely able to describe themselves as a world-class bartender is vanishingly small. So when we find a master of the arts, we are happy to place ourselves in their hands, in the knowledge that they are able to tickle our taste buds in ways that few others can.
Massimo is one of the elite. Yet is also humble, down to earth, a cocktail genius in love with his craft rather than with himself. A proud Roman, he genuinely engages with the customer, listening carefully and gently tweaking his ingredients to suit their needs and tastes. This is no mean feat. Cane & Grain boasts a genuinely eye-popping range of whiskies, and has one of the largest reserves of American rye, corn, malt, wheat, and bourbon whiskeys in the British Isles. Matching a blend of spirits with the complex demands of a single human being’s gustatory system must, to the amateur, be like solving a Rubik’s Cube blindfold and with both hands wrapped in baking paper.
Our party began with a Barrel Aged Old Fashioned. This blended two different bourbons with a peaty single-malt from Islay (Ardbeg, aged ten years), before dousing the lot in a vanilla and orange syrup and a sherry and port reduction. The result was sweet (and a little sour) and utterly heavenly. The next offering was a Freddy Free Loader, which mixed re-distilled watermelon vodka with honey saffron water, fresh lime and grapefruit juice, all sprayed with a mint mist and served in a Martini glass.
So little time, so many great cocktails, all invented by the man himself, and perfected in the fabulously well-stocked cocktail school situated in a bijou little room at the rear of the bar. Every conceivable ingredient is stocked here on high wooden shelves, from cinnamon sticks to a dizzying array of spirits and bitters. Massimo – who also oversees every bar owned by the Cane & Grain group – runs two distinct Cocktail Masterclasses, which aim to turn the average punter into a bartending genius.
By now, we were in need of something to soak up some of the booze. That came in the form of a Cane & Grain burger – done juicy and just the right side of medium-rare – and a full slab of baby back ribs, sweet and crispy and utterly divine. Two more cocktails later, and we were peeling ourselves off the bar and heading back to our hotel. Massimo’s cocktails are world-class, and so is the guy himself. A great night out.