A good barman can challenge the most stubborn palate, says Don Kavanagh

It's funny how we've all got a drink that makes us queasy.

For some it's gin, or tequila, or - bizarrely - whisky; but we've all got at least one flavour or style of drink we don't like.

For me, it used to be Southern Comfort. After a youthful indiscretion involving a bottle of the potent spirit, a lack of toilets and an electric cattle fence, I felt unable to even walk past it on the shelf for many years. When I was a barman, I had to get other people to serve it, so deep was my loathing of it.

Eventually I had to try it as part of my job and was surprised to find it a lot more pleasant than I had been imagining for the past 25-odd years. That's the way with youthful terrors - they tend to be less frightening with the benefit of age.


Another drink that had a similar effect on me for a while was dark rum, until a bartender I knew in London sat me down one night and made a cocktail of such effortless genius that I have loved dark rum ever since. That's one of the great things about a good bartender - they can change the way you feel.

I noticed this again recently when I was a function that involved bartender Barney Toy making a fantastic cocktail. Barney is a truly great bartender and one of life's nice guys as well, and it's not often you'll hear an Irishman praise an Englishman. His understanding of how flavour combinations work has won him awards, prizes and the respect of anyone who has ever had one of his drinks.

Now, my problem was that the cocktail he was making for this function was a maitai - no problem there - but it was made with beetroot juice.

I hate beetroot. I mean, really, really despise it. Never mind sprouts, beetroot is truly the devil's vegetable and I have to look away when my partner makes a burger and loads it up with the vile stuff.

It all springs from eating a sneaky bowl of jelly late one night as a child and finding that the lovely sweet blackcurrant jelly in the fridge was actually beetroot jelly my mother had made, probably as a punishment for someone.

Anyway, on the day of the function I decided I'd have to be brave. I lifted the glass to my mouth, held my nose and drank. And didn't die, spit or spew. In fact, it was a stunning drink and one I really enjoyed.

So what I'm trying to say, in a ridiculously convoluted way, is be brave and try new things. And most of all, trust your local bartender - they probably know what they're doing and can change your perception and cure you of your darkest fears. Although I don't think I'll be mentioning my arachnophobia anytime soon - just in case I start getting served drinks with hairy legs hanging out of them.