Watch Norwich’s king of cocktails in action (and find out what his favourite drinks are)
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016
Norwich's cocktail king Shane Hodges takes our reporter Courtney Pochin on a whirlwind drink-making masterclass.
Arriving at Coast to Coast, an American restaurant and bar located at Norwich's Riverside complex in the late afternoon on Tuesday, I was feeling a little intimidated. I was here to meet one of the city's most highly-rated bartenders.
The praise for Shane Hodges online is seemingly endless; visitors to the restaurant have fallen for the 26-year-old's friendly demeanour and impressive drinks, with a whopping 257 reviews on TripAdvisor raving about his cocktails. I felt it was only right to discover whether his cocktail making skills were really up to scratch.
Spoiler alert – they are.
Coast To Coast boasts an impressive cocktail menu of 50 different drinks that includes a range of martinis, margaritas and hardshakes and after only a few minutes of arriving, it quickly became clear that Shane knew the menu inside and out, despite claiming he struggles to commit things to memory.
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We started with a mini cocktail class, creating the most popular item on the menu, a Russian Spring Punch.
Shane gathered ingredients and talked through the measurements as I attempted to heap crushed ice into a very tall, very thin glass.
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As we (and by we, I mean Shane) continued to make the drinks, we chatted about his career and how he got started behind the bar.
'My first job was working as a kitchen assistant in an Italian restaurant,' he said. 'When I was younger I really wanted to be a chef, so I trained at Lowestoft College from 2005 to 2007. But then I started here in 2014 and quickly fell in love with front of house and bar work and I guess the rest is history. My lifetime goal would probably be to open my own bar.'
Future plans aside, Shane's passion for his current job is evident. 'The support I get from the managers is great and we all get along so well here, it's like a big family and we have a laugh, but when it's time to get serious, we get serious and work hard.'
Once the Russian Spring Punch is completed, and I've successfully proven that I'm not cut out for cocktail making, Shane gets down to business and moves on to making slightly more complex drinks; effortlessly whipping up a Zoom, a rainbow coloured drink reminiscent of the rocket lollies I consumed during childhood, and a crème brulee concoction that took things to a whole new level.
The creamy drink made of vanilla vodka, double cream, crème brulee syrup and citrus foam, is garnished with a caramelised orange wheel, the making of which Shane describes as 'the fun part' as he produces a blow torch and things start to get technical.
He sets the fruit on fire and deftly wields various pieces of equipment to produce alcoholic artwork and much to my delight, a take on mine and Carrie Bradshaw's drink of choice - the humble Cosmopolitan.
After watching the show, I think of the bartenders I'd seen on television, throwing bottles around here, there, and everywhere. Apparently that's a trick called 'flairing' and it just isn't for Shane, 'I'm too clumsy for that.'
His inability to flair does nothing to dampen his skills, which also include inventing new cocktails on the spot.
Each month the restaurant allows staff to create their own drink to trial at the bar, usually with a theme related to whichever blockbuster is showing at the Odeon across the street.
Last month, Shane produced Batman and Superman themed cocktails for customers and sold roughly 100 of them in two days. 'I tried to match the drink to the character's colours. The Batman was a dark drink, whereas the Superman one was red, white and blue. I couldn't believe how much people liked them, we sold so many and I'd never been quite so happy in my life.'
The job isn't all about pretty drinks though, as Shane admits that it can also be very demanding, especially on a weekend when people are often queuing out of the door.
'It can be tough with so many people to please, but it's also great being able to make so many new friends. A big part of my job is socialising with guests, I try and learn something interesting about them and in return tell them something personal about myself.'
As we clear up the mess I've made and finish off the decadent drinks, Shane imparts some advice for those considering taking on a career like his.
He suggests going 'to a pub to start with and get as much bar experience as you can, then work your way up to cocktails'.
'If people are willing to work hard, then I'm willing to train them, no matter what qualifications they have,' he adds.
After spending a few hours at Coast To Coast, I've learnt that there's so much more to cocktails than just being shaken and not stirred.
•Where's the best cocktail you've had in Norwich? You can leave your comments below.