Bols to Amsterdam

As a non-smoker I was overjoyed when the UK brought in the ban for puffing away in clubs and bars. My killjoy attitude had nothing to do with health and everything to do with the number of dresses ruined by a casual flick of a lit cigarette being wafted around. Drunk people are not known for their coordination and the mornings I have inspected a beloved dress to find a fag burn has put it out of action are too many and painful to recall.

The ban saved precious fabric and even though my presence in bars and, especially, clubs is a rarity these days it is comforting to know that not only are your clothes safe from naked flames but also your hair will not smell like an ashtray.

However, Holland snorts in the face of such concerns as the Dutch have rebelled against the ban and are happily lighting up wherever there’s booze on sale. I completely forgot about this until I found myself in Amsterdam’s Escape club last week gingerly guarding my 1970s crepe dress from gesticulating girls who were using cigarettes to reinforce whatever point they were making to the men chatting them up.

At one point I had to use one of the waitresses as a human shield to navigate through a group of Amazonian Dutch girls who were holding their smokes at hip height, which roughly put them dangerously next to my shoulders. But at least I got a good look at the waitresses’ cute hair accessory!

I found myself in Escape as the guest of Bols Liqueurs for its World Cocktail Championships. It was difficult to concentrate on the show of ‘flaring’ when you’re aware that at any moment you could go up in flames.

Earlier that day we were taken for high tea on a boat sailing along the city’s canal network. Of all the eating occasions, afternoon tea is my absolute favourite. When I first moved into my own home, before I bought a sofa or a wardrobe, I purchased a vintage tea set and cake stand.

I am always looking for new ideas for presenting afternoon nibbles and as we floated past the iconic slim buildings of Amsterdam, our host and brand ambassador John Clay set down steaming pots of tea. They were, literally, steaming as John had filled them with liquid nitrogen to create decorative centrepieces.

Click here to watch a video of the teapots!

They looked dramatic but not everyone has liquid nitrogen handily stored in their fridge so that’s one trick I will leave to the professionals. The trip certainly had a Willy Wonka feel to it as prior to boarding the boat we had been treated to a tour of the Bols HQ, with an exhibition in the basement that included a row of what looked like perfume bottles but were actually liqueur atmoisers.

The idea was to wander along the row, pumping the atmomiser to release the smell of the liqueur and then guess the flavour. This reminded me of a pub quiz round where one had to guess the flavour of those gourmet jelly beans that people buy at Christmas and are still hanging around at Easter as they, frankly, taste disgusting. Especially the popcorn ones.

At least with melon-flavoured Bols there’s an alcohol content to offset the sweetness. The Bols liqueurs are not meant to be drunk neat but as components of cocktails, hence the brand having its own championships, and while watching bartenders making drinks is not that exciting, I did appreciate the results. I would highly recommend a Vanillaberry Crush, not only is it delicious but I found that after two it eased any clothing concerns!

Here’s my recipe for a home-made version of a Vanillaberry Crush:

30ml of a white spirit, you can buy Genever or use vodka/gin
A dash of vanilla, either liqueur or essence depending upon how alchofrolic you want the cocktail!
A generous spoonful of strawberry puree and/or cane syrup – again this depends on whether you want to invest in cocktail ingredients.
Add as much or as little Old Fashioned lemonade

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