The Award-Winning Bar Menu At Gleneagles Draws Inspiration From Mini Encyclopedias

In 1937, Frederick Warne & Co. began publishing Observer's Books, a series of colorful pocket-sized references that have since become collector's items — with some valued at close to $250. Nearly 100 titles were published, and the attractive books contained illustrations and descriptions of the topic at hand, which varied from flowers to islands to dogs. Readers were not only provided with facts about a wide range of topics but also acquired a pleasing-to-the-eye touch of whimsy to add to their bookshelves. It's no wonder that eventually, these mini encyclopedias might inspire a different kind of publication: An award-winning bar menu.

At The American Bar, tucked inside Scotland's Gleneagles Hotel (which also houses the Michelin-starred Andrew Fairlie restaurant), the cocktail menu borrows aesthetic elements from these accessible reference books. Beverages are categorized and displayed similarly, and pages are designed to include references to the botanical berries that inform each drink recipe. The unique concept helped the bar claim the 2023 title of the Siete Misterios Best Cocktail Menu Award, an acknowledgment given by 50 Best representatives.

When science and art meet in a glass

The parallel between the vintage Observer's Books and the atmosphere of the plush bar makes sense. The luxuriously decorated setting has its own 1920s vibe, with glamorous armchairs and vintage decor reminiscent of an environment Gatsby himself might step into. The bar menu is called "Book of Berries" and is bound in the same fabric some of the Observer's Books can be found in. Like Frederick Warne & Co.'s publications, the bar menu's pages are artfully filled with illustrations, ingredient details, and processes outlining how drinks are made. This menu is by no means a condensed booklet; it's a work of art that spans nearly 60 pages. 

For guests who aren't sure where to begin, a flavor map guides drinkers along a continuum of light, rich, short, and long cocktails, and a comprehensive glossary lists terms, ingredients, and techniques that bargoers might be unfamiliar with. While sipping on drinks, guests can learn about fat washing, the process by which flavors and textures from fats are transferred into clear and flavorful spirits; malic acid, an acid extracted from green apples; ancho reyes, a smoky and spicy liquor made from chilies; or maceration, the method by which herbs like juniper are steeped in alcohol for a day and blended into gin to result in a richer, creamier mouthfeel. 

Unique recipes with familiar ingredients

Illustrations of ingredients are placed alongside explanations of how the products are used, where they are grown, the types of climates they thrive in, and the scientific names of the botanicals. On one page, an illustration of a honeyberry with a bee is set opposite the drink options for alcoholic and non-alcoholic concoctions. The alcoholic version is made with Aberfeldy 12-year-old whisky, honeyberry, and kefir, and a description details the way in which freeze-dried honeyberries are made into a smoothie-like, lactose-free liquid that is used to create light, creamy cocktails that hit just right on the tongue. 

An ample list of champagnes and wines is included for those who would rather skip cocktails. However, when blueberry muffins from the hotel's own bakery are blended with vodka, fat-washed, and distilled before being added to a milk punch, or the pits from avocados are roasted and milled to make a sweet, creamy liquid used to make The American Bar's own version of a Mai Tai, it would seem to be a missed opportunity not to try one of these inventive creations. Delicious cocktails paired with a sumptuous setting? It's no wonder The American Bar is pulling in awards.