date published: January 15, 2007

5 questions with...

Sean Harrison    
by Marketa Hulpachova

January 16 marks the anniversary of the Prohibition Act of 1920. Eighty-seven years after the birth of the speakeasy, Panorama asks Sean Harrison, the master distiller of England’s Plymouth Gin to share his thoughts on booze and the state of the local bar scene.

Q: Can you give us an example of a classic Prohibition cocktail?
The screwdriver was a popular drink because the orange juice masked the alcohol. A great modern version of the screwdriver is the Harvey Wallbanger, which adds Galliano liqueur to the gin and orange juice mix.

Q: What place did gin have in Prohibition days?
Back then, vodka wasn’t known, so gin was the alcohol of choice throughout the Prohibition. People used to make “bathtub gin” at home by soaking juniper in grain alcohol—pretty awful stuff.

Q: What is a good starting point for a cocktail novice?
If it’s done well, I really enjoy a martini. I’m quite a mood drinker—even a gin and tonic can be a nice, gentle way to start off the evening. My recommendation to anyone is to find a good bar on a quiet afternoon and ask for a martini. Don’t be scared by the strength and talk to the barman—if you get a good one, it’s like a light goes on in your head.

Q: Where do you like to drink when in Boston?
The bartender at the Omni Parker House always makes a good gin martini, as do the guys at the B-Side Lounge [92 Hampshire St., Cambridge].

Q: How does the Boston bar scene compare to England?
I’ve noticed that in any U.S. city, there are only about 6 or 7 bars where top cocktails are made. Right now, I would say that London is ahead in this sense, but as more and more barmen take the time to learn about spirits, the overall quality is going up.