Thursday 31 March 2011

A Pash-ion for Vodka #1: Chase Smoked Vodka

This is the first of a new series of articles looking at Vodka, it used to be the darling of the spirit world but recently has become a bit less popular, at least with drinks writers, it seems.*

A good friend of mine, Mr. Pasha, comes from Moscow and on his periodic trips to the UK he usually brings me a bottle of something he has picked up in the Motherland. In fact when Mrs. B and I got married our wedding present consisted of several bottle of vodka and some caviar (much better than a toaster, I'm sure you'd agree!).

That said the first of these articles will actually focus on a British Vodka that I've been meaning to write about for a long time. But rest assured there will be more Russian Vodka to come.

Chase English Oak Smoked Vodka

When I purchased up it was a toss up between this and the Chase Marmalade Vodka, I've not yet tried that but I was still really pleased with my choice of the smoked. The vodka was inspired when one of the folks in the distillery was tasting some fine local smoked salmon; the vodka is smoked in a similar way to the fish. The smoke from the oak permeates Chase's award-winning Potato vodka in a specially designed smoke chamber for about a week.

The run of Smoked Vodka was very limited and although it is currently discontinued there are still bottles about. Mine was about £30 for 70cl.

The Taste

On its own
Nose: neutral grain and a little smoke
Taste: Wow! There is the smokiness, moving from Bavarian smoked cheese to smoked fish to a great smoked meat. To my mind this beats any peated whisky. Despite the smokiness it is still remarkably smooth with a pleasant sweet pick-up on the finish.

Smokey Mule
Moscow Mule using Chase Smoked, quite a pleasant way to enjoy the vodka; Chase holds its own in this drink and the fieriness of the ginger beer is followed by the smoke of the vodka. (No pyro-puns intended)

Martini (5:1) - SHAKEN
Strong flavours of smoked cheese and Palma Ham, the vermouth (Dolin) added a little green herb element, not unlike olives. These flavours combine to create a sort of antipasto misto in a glass. Cool, crisp and delightful. I've never had anything like this.

Frozen Chase
An easy one to make this, it's just smoked vodka straight from the freezer. A very strong smokey flavour, unusual as freezing usually curbs the flavour of the vodka. The vodka is delightfully smokey and almost textureless. it is as if cold smoke vapour is passing down my throat after leaving a warm tingle on my tongue.

In Conclusion
Chase Smoked is the best smoked spirit I've ever had and with its flavour of smoked cheese and meats we at the Institute think that this is what a good bacon vodka should taste like. With that thought comes a plethora of cocktail ideas…

Sadly this has currently been discontinued by Chase but I, along with the dozen people who have sampled some of my bottle sincerely hope that it is brought back.

*Maybe it's just because I move and shake in the gin-set

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Curiosity Cabinet #5: Jaquin's Rock and Rye

The curiosity cabinet has a little hiatus of late but with so many cookery products around it would never be dormant for long. Those who know me are probably familiar with my interest in premixed drinks, the kind that Gordon's made for decades in the form of their Shake cocktails, and that are arguably still around incarnated as alcopops such as Bacardi Breezers and Smirnoff Ice, not to mention canned premixed gin and tonic and vodka/rum/whisky-and-cokes that are available.

A selection of "Ready to Drink" (pre-mixed) Cocktails
One cocktail I have never seen a premix of though is an Old Fashioned—that was, until I came across Jacquin's Rock & Rye.*

This is made by Charles Jacquin & CIE., Co. a family-owned business established in 1884 that bills itself as being "America's Oldest Cordial Producer". They also make Polish Vodka Pravda.

Jacquin's Rock & Rye is bottled at 40%ABV and is a combination of Kentucky Rye, Orange (from Florida) and Rock Candy (Sugar). It dates back to the early post-Prohibition days and comes from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Floating in the bottle are an array of citrus wedges and some green cherries, however after sitting in the whisky these have lost most of their colour and are unappetising shades of brown and off-green. But appearances can be deceptive so how does it taste?

The Taste
The predominant flavours of Jacquin's Rock & Rye are sugar and bitters. The usually complexity the whisky brings to this usually superb cocktail is pretty much lost, although the warmth is still there and there is a little grain from the whisky. You get some of the odd fruit/citrus flavours from browning fruit inside the bottle. To me this tastes like an Old Fashioned with the middle removed. I struggled to finish the glass and so couldn't really recommend it, although I know folks rave about it, even claiming it has medicinal properties**. Really if you want an Old Fashioned you're best to make one from scratch and here is an excellent recipe:

Jacquin's Rock and Rye is available from The Whisky Exchange and The Drink shop for around £22 for 75cl.

*In fairness to Jacquin's they do not suggest that it is a substitute for an Old Fashioned that is just what many third parties have described it as.
** Read comments here.

Friday 25 March 2011

When is a Gin not a Gin?

Square One and examples of: Gin, Distilled Gin & London Gin

In the last couple of years many new gins have entered an already crowded marketplace and, in a bid to differentiate themselves, some are putting a new twist on what gin is, flavouring it with berries or coconut or changing the colour, making it yellow, pink or even blue.

So let's look at the EU definition of gin. Below is a simplified definition guide, with the most technical details omitted—for the full specification please see EU Regulation: No 110/2008.

London Dry Gin can be made anywhere in the world as long as it adheres to the London Gin specification. Some brands have started to referred to their London Dry Gins, actually made in London, as also being "London Cut".

This leads me on to an interesting product I first encountered on the famous Gin Wall at Plymouth Distillery and subsequently revisited at the Eaux de Vie offices.

Square One Botanical (Vodka) [45%ABV]

I have to admit that when I first tried this I mistakenly believed it was a gin (a non-junipery gin, for these do technically exist) but a gin nonetheless. A look at the bottle may suggest why: Square One contains eight botanicals, coriander and citrus peel (very familiar faces in the gin world) as well as rosemary, lavender, chamomile (all botanicals used in other gins) and pear, rose and lemon verbena (a flowering shrub).

Square One is made in Idaho Oregon and whereas technically I suspect it is a vodka it is described as a "Botanical Organic* Spirit"; it is made with rye. Square One also make a pretty tasty cucumber vodka** and regular plain rye vodka.

I have given Square One Botanical neat to a number of people and they've all mistaken it for gin—showing what an important part coriander and citrus play in the flavour profile of the average gin. Square One is sweet on the nose and certainly has the complexity of a gin. The citrus and coriander comes through and the mind may trick you into thinking you can taste juniper.

Given Square One's similarity to the juniper-spirit I thought I'd try it in a "Gin" & Tonic and a Martini.

Not just any Gin & Tonic or Martini...
"Gin" & Tonic
It is complex like a gin & tonic but for a moment you are fooled into believing it is one until you think, where's the juniper? Still, this is fresh and crisp like a good G&T. I'm not sure everyone would be able to tell the difference, (possibly blind I wouldn't have)*** but still it's a tasty beverage.

Here the difference is more acute this tastes like a flavourful vodka Martini with citrus, some sweet floral and a touch of herbs. Surprisingly sweet on the finish. Good, in terms of having a full flavour, as Vodka Martinis go but not as crisp as a Gin Martini and not as smooth as a standard Vodka Martini. An interesting middle ground between vodka and gin.

And that pretty much sums up Square One Botanical Spirit it is an interesting, but tasty, middle ground. If you want more flavour to your vodka but don't like juniper, this is a must-try. If you like gin, I'd give it a snifter too!

Square One Botanical Spirit is available for around £32 for 70cl from The Whisky Exchange.

*US Department of Agriculture certified, I'm not 100% sure how it complies with EU organic regulation. (Please see comment for further elaboration.)
** I lose track of who does and doesn't still make a cucumber vodka, Polstar and Blackwoods have made them but I think they may have been discontinued.
*** For clarification, the reason why Square One and Square One and Tonic could be mistake for gin is because, these days, not all gins have a predominant or even a dominant taste of juniper (despite the EU regs) so Square One could mistaken for one of those gins.

For those who requested it here is a list of all the GI Protected Gin/Juniper Spirits in the EU:

  • Genièvre/Jenever/Genever Belgium, The Netherlands, France (Départements Nord (59) and Pas-de-Calais (62)),Germany (German Bundesländer Nordrhein-Westfalen and Niedersachsen)

  • Genièvre de grains, Graanjenever, Graangenever Belgium, The Netherlands, France (Départements Nord (59) and Pas-de-Calais (62))

  • Jonge jenever, jonge genever Belgium, The Netherlands
  • Oude jenever, oude genever Belgium, The Netherlands
  • Hasseltse jenever/Hasselt Belgium (Hasselt, Zonhoven, Diepenbeek)
  • Balegemse jenever Belgium (Balegem)

  • O' de Flander-Oost-Vlaamse Graanjenever Belgium (Oost-Vlaanderen)
  • Peket-Pekêt/Pèket-Pèkèt de Wallonie Belgium (Région wallonne)
  • Genièvre Flandres Artois France (Départements Nord (59) and Pas-de-Calais (62))

  • Ostfriesischer Korngenever (Germany)
  • Steinhäger (Germany)
  • Plymouth Gin (United Kingdom)
  • Gin de Mahón (Spain)
  • Vilniaus Džinas/Vilnius Gin (Lithuania)
  • Spišská borovička (Slovakia)
  • Slovenská borovička Juniperus (Slovakia)
  • Slovenská borovička (Slovakia)
  • Inovecká borovička (Slovakia)
  • Liptovská borovička (Slovakia)

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Edgerton gin: think pink?

I am reliably informed that pink drinks are “in” at the moment, and it’s true that at recent Candlelight Club events we have actually shifted as much if not more pink fizz than white. Edgerton Original Pink Dry Gin is precisely that, a gin with a strong pink colour that apparently “derives from pomegranate”, though pomegranate is not listed as a botanical. Given that distillate is always colourless, the hue must be added post distillation, in the form of an extract rather than infusing actual chunks of pomegranate. Edgerton is “genuinely distilled and bottled in London—the ‘appellation controlée’ of super premium gin”, which just means it was made by the doughty Thames Distillers, like so many other small-batch gins.

The company behind the pink drink are the same crowd who brought us the bright blue The London No.1 Original Blue Gin, so clearly they’re obsessed with making gin in funny colours. Or perhaps, having made a blue one for boys, they felt the need to balance things up with a pink one for girls. This is a less trivial observation than you might think—as I assumed my customary position at the bar in Graphic, barman Adam Smithson was playing around with this gin and made the point that you might assume the colour meant it was, like quite a few other recently released gins, aimed at women. And yet Edgerton is bottled at 47%. “That’s quite a masculine strength,” Adam muses, “but how many men are going to want to stand at the bar with a pink drink?”

Leaving the sexual politics of colour aside, what is the gin like? As you bring your nose to bear you immediately get sweet, fruity, floral notes, then the dry, powdery spice of cinnamon and cassia underneath; quite a seductive combination. It’s hard to get too much taste off it neat so I add a bit of water, and immediately orange and juniper start to emerge on the nose. The palate is fruity/floral with a grapefruit-bitter finish and a chocolately aftertaste.

There are 14 botanicals at work here, including some of the usual suspects—juniper, coriander seeds, angelica root, orris powder and lemon peel—plus cinnamon, cassia and almond powder. Like many new gins it uses sweet orange peel rather than bitter, and probably gets extra sweetness from the liquorice that warms your tongue in the afterglow. Then there are savoury, nutmeg, grains of paradise—and damiana. I’d never heard of this before but apparently it is a Mexican botanical with a “smoky, slightly minty taste”.

A Martini made with Edgerton
It’s worth noting that, out of these 14 botanicals, fully 12 of them are identical to The London No.1 (the only difference being that instead of damiana and grains of paradise that one has bergamot and gardenia). All of which makes you think it really is all about the silly colour.

The overall flavour of Edgerton Original Pink is pleasant enough though, as with a lot of new gins, I think the sweet, floral profile pursued, presumably to make it accessible to non-gin-drinkers, would get a bit cloying for me after a while. My other problem is that this particular combination of sweet/fruity/floral, but with a bitter sting at the back of the nose, rather reminds me of shampoo. They are quite right that, at 47%, it “will not fade with tonic”: at 2:1 the character of the gin remains strong. This holds true in a Martini as well.

Adam tries a few inventions on me without telling me the ingredients. His Mary Pinkford, a variation on the Mary Pickford, adds (if I recall correctly) pineapple juice, grenadine and lime but I’m convinced there is something minty in there too, like crème de menthe—perhaps this is the mintiness of the damiana coming through? Then he hits me with his Edgertonian, essentially a Martini made with dry sherry and plum bitters. I find this fascinating: the dryness makes me wonder if there is tea in it, and I’m getting something like caramelised oats as well; the plum element is strong and lingering, reminding me of slivovice.

Lemon and lime balance Edgerton’s sweet/floral stance—in a gimlet the lime cordial and gin lock horns in an intriguing way, revealing unexpected meaty elements in the spirit. A Corpse Reviver No.2 tames the gin more, so that its distinctive character is submerged a bit (though not its colour!). It also makes a good, coherent—and pleasingly lilac—Aviation (gin, lemon juice, maraschino, crème de violette). One final thing I noticed: I smelled an empty glass that had contained the neat gin, and suddenly got a dry, hot, smoky whiff, like Mexican chipotle (smoked jalapeño) chile.

While not my New Favourite Gin, Edgerton deserves some experimentation to winkle out its flavour elements. And if you hanker after a less austere, less juniper-led gin, then it might be worth investigating. Especially if you have a pink kitchen.

Edgerton Original Pink Dry Gin can be had from around £28 for 70cl.

Friday 18 March 2011

Let me through—I'm a state-registered connoisseur!

Montana: a not-insignificant chunk of America

I had lunch with a friend the other day, an urbane American (“lush” is the word he uses) whose home state is actually Montana, a place he depicts as unreconstructed cowboy country, where they still shoot Marlboro advertisements (and presumably anyone with long hair). Getting a decent drink there is quite a test of a gentleman’s initiative and endurance. It is by no means the most restrictive state but to this day “hard liquor” can only be purchased in state-run dispensaries—which I imagine as grey concrete compounds with grilles behind which mirthless operatives relinquish dark bottles with a skull and crossbones on them. To get to the grille you are probably made to run the gauntlet through a gang of chastising priests and doe-eyed orphans of terminal alcoholics, just to check you really want to go through with this.*

I'm a bit disappointed by the form you have to fill in.
It looks like a secretary just knocked it up in Word
in her lunch hour.
Alcohol licences for bars and restaurants are, by and large, in fixed supply. The state controls things “for the protection of the welfare, health, peace, morals and safety of the people” and there is a distinct official notion of how many watering holes are “right” for any given community—about one per 1,500 people according to the rules drawn up in 1947. Establishments lucky enough to have a licence seem free to sell them on, so you get this strange situation where a start-up restaurant wanting to sell wine may have to pay almost a million dollars to buy a licence on the open market.

What if you want to order drink from the supplier and have it sent to your home? If it’s a Montana brewery or winery they can if they are licensed to do so—but what if they are from Outside the State, where folk are all wizards, whores and murderers? There is a way. The elders do recognise that not everyone who wants to bring alcohol into their state is necessarily a flame-eyed degenerate. Some of them are proper aesthetes. And to this end you can actually be certified as a “connoisseur”, allowing you to bring up to 12 cases a year into the state for personal consumption.

It’s quite a bureaucratic burden: you must fill in a form and pay a fee (previously $50 but according to an email from the Montana Department of Revenue now just $25), stating whether you are a wine connoisseur or beer connoisseur.** If—hold on to your stetsons—you want to convince the state that you are a connoisseur of both (and not just an amoral rakehell who drinks whatever’s in front of him) you can apply for a “combo” licence, though that’ll cost you twice as much. These licences must be renewed every year. You then have to send a copy of your licence to the out-of-state winery or brewery—themselves licensed by Montana—who must keep it on file and dispatch your plonk with a “distinctive address label” on it, presumably so that UPS functionaries know to wear gloves and treat you with contempt. Moreover, you must keep accounts of all this and make tax declarations twice a year, paying the tax on your alcohol habit (13.8–16% of the retail price).

This is it. I can just imagine my name on this form…
If anyone is wondering what to get me for Christmas, get me registered by the State of Montana as a connoisseur—it’s the kind of official endorsement I need right now. I fondly imagined that you got a card you can carry around in your wallet and flash at checkpoints, but the Montana Department of Revenue have kindly sent me a sample and it doesn’t have quite the bureaucratic heft I was hoping for—no multi-coloured scrollwork, no hologram, not even a mystical pyramid with an eye on it. (You do get the administrator's autograph, which is nice.)

According to the latest figures just 153 people out of the million who live in Montana have applied for wine licences—and only four polymaths have sought and won the right to call themselves connoisseurs of both beer and wine. They should form a club, like those clubs for people who have survived heart transplants of been shot down by the Luftwaffe.

In fairness, cross-state direct shipment is a headache all over the country. Thirteen states have reciprocal arrangements allowing it; Alaska allows it up to a “reasonable” amount, which it doesn’t define. But confronted by the multifarious bureaucracy, many wineries just decline to ship across state borders.

Now, if I were living in Maryland I’d be screwed: drinks writers must be certified as “experts” by the state before they can receive product samples, and even then you’re limited to three bottles per brand.

Here are my favourite American licensing laws, courtesy of bartending maven Miss Charming (I haven't checked any of this, I'm afraid. What do you think I am, a journalist?):

• In Iowa it’s illegal to run a tab.

• In Arkansas credit cards are banned in liquor stores and wine shops. In New York, you can use a credit card to buy wine, but only in person. In Alabama, it's illegal to buy any alcoholic beverages by telephone, fax or e-mail.

• An award-winning adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood was banned from a reading list by a school board in Culver City, California, because the heroine includes a bottle of wine in the basket she brought to her grandmother. The entire Encyclopaedia Britannica is banned in Texas because it contains a recipe for making beer.

• It’s illegal to drink on a plane when flying over any dry parts of Kansas.

• In Kentucky you can be jailed for five years for sending a bottle of beer, wine or spirits as a gift to a friend.

• In California alcohol producers can’t list the names of retailers or restaurants that sell their products. In West Virginia, bars can advertise alcohol prices, but not brand names. In Louisiana they mustn’t display brand names that can be seen from outside the building. 

• In Utah wine used in tastings must not be swallowed. Full alcohol service is available only in private clubs or a limited number of restaurants that aren’t allowed to mention that it’s available.

• In Missouri if you’re under the age of 21 and you take out household rubbish containing an empty booze bottle or beer can you can be charged with illegal possession of alcohol.

• Nebraska has a law prohibiting bars from selling beer unless they are simultaneously brewing a kettle of soup. In North Dakota, on the other hand, it’s illegal to serve beer and pretzels at the same time.

• Mississippi didn’t repeal Prohibition until 1966.

• Texas state law prohibits taking more than three sips of beer at a time while standing.

• In Saskatchewan, Canada, it's illegal to drink alcohol while watching exotic dancers.

• In the 1940s California law made it illegal to serve alcohol to a homosexual. (How were bartenders supposed to tell? Did you have to be a state-registered homosexual?)

* Years ago a friend of mine worked for Threshers. He described how the firm's other chain, Wine Rack, was their more "high-end" sister. It got me speculating about perhaps having a more low-end brand too, called something like Booze Point, that just sold beer and alcopops. (Actually there was a branch of Victoria Wine near me—now abandoned—that was just like this. They did sell some wine, in one corner, but even their window display consisted of artfully displayed cans of lager.) Right at the bottom you could have Grog Nozzle, a chain of booths where you insert a coin then put your lips around a brass pipe and get ready to swallow. Which in fact is not so dissimilar to the legend of how Old Tom gin got its name—one revenue man was allegedly selling gin on the sly, and on the outside of his house was a figure of a black cat. You put a coin in its mouth and gin was dispensed.
** Actually I've just learned that they seem to have discontinued the beer-only licence, though they didn't say why. No call for it? Breweries not willing to go through the hassle?

Thursday 17 March 2011

The Shamrock Shake—Happy St Patrick's Day!

Uncle O' Grimacey
It's St Patrick's day and some of our cousins over the pond will be marking the event by indulging in a sticky green goo. Ectoplasm? No, it's the Shamrock Shake. This is a seasonal milkshake from McDonalds; it's green and it tastes of mint (although some folks dispute this). To the chagrin of "some Americans" this is not a product carried by all outlets and is an example of the inconsistencies that lead some McDonalds in the USA to serve breakfast all day.

For some reason this idea has always intrigued me and last year around St Patricks day I went into McDonalds armed with a bottle of peppermint flavouring and green food dye to make a recreation.

This was all well and good but it wasn't alcoholic nor is it really used as a mixer and thus, arguably, beyond the remit of this institute.

With a McDonalds around the corner from the IAEs South-Coast branch it was easy to bring a shake home to experiment with.

The UK Shamrock Shake
Here is my recipe for a Shamrock Shake:

One medium vanilla milkshake
20ml of green crème de menthe

The Taste
The aim of recreating a Shamrock Shake is to make it
1) Mint-flavoured 
2) Green
The Creme de Menthe method certainly does this. The taste is akin to an After Eight Mint (after dinner mint) with a bit of white chocolate thrown in for good measure. It certainly leaves your breath minty fresh.

I tried to spice things up by adding some (25ml) Grey Goose Vanilla Vodka and I must say this made the drink even better (I know! Who would have thought it?). The vodka adds a more complex vanilla and creamy note that the original milkshake was sadly lacking.

I really like this drink and it's a great way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.*

Beannacht Lá Fhéile Pádraig!

(Happy St Patrick's Day!)

* Certainly better than a Pickleback (A shot of Jameson whiskey followed by a pickle juice chaser)

Sunday 13 March 2011

Vermouth Death Match!

The "dry" you are looking for is…
Mrs Bridgman-Smith gathers her mental strength as she prepares to tackle 16 vermouths
When assessing all the new gins that tumble on to the market these days, I suspect that for many people the classic Dry Martini is the first or second most popular way to drink them, along with the G&T. But as we furrow our brows over the subtle differences between one gin and another, I always think: what about the other ingredient that makes up the drink? Are all vermouths created equal?

Regulars will know of my ceaseless quest to find a way to stop vermouth from oxidising as soon as you open a bottle, but there is also the matter of how one vermouth compares with another. Could it be that your choice of Martini or Noilly or Dolin has more effect on the cocktail than the brand of gin or the choice of shaking or stirring?

With this in mind DBS and I decided on a comparative tasting of all the vermouths we could lay our hands on. Once again the venue was Graphic, and we gathered together a band of tasters—featuring Robert Beckwith and David Hollander from the New Sheridan Club, plus Sarah and Adam from the bar—so we could produce a vaguely scientific rating. We were faced with 16 vermouths, allegedly all dry whites, although the Gancia turned out to be a sweet bianco style, and Lillet blanc is certainly not dry either. We tasted them in tranches of four, seeking a favourite out of each tranch, but in fact it fairly easily became apparent what our overall favourites were. We then took the ones that had scored well and tried them in Martini cocktails made with our benchmark gin, SW4.

DBS with the understated Martini Gold bottle
For a full list of what we tried, see my tasting notes below, but there are a couple of oddities worthy of mention. In addition to Lillet blanc, a key ingredient in a Corpse Reviver No.2 and often cropping up these days in attempts to recreate the Vesper Martini (even though the Kina Lillet that Bond specifies would have been more bitter), we also had Jean de Lillet, a special reserve version that has been barrel aged for some years. It has great depth and nuance and, for my money, was the best one when tried on its own. But I think that that is the best thing to do with it: squaring up to gin its subtleties are lost and it can’t really make its presence felt.

We also had the extraordinary “gold-plated” bottle of Martini Gold, apparently concocted in partnership with Dolce & Gabbana. It’s quite interesting, with strong bergamot notes plus saffron, and it also contains myrrh, ginger and cubeb, but it somehow tastes as you would expect—a bit bling, a bit overblown, a bit Essex. Like drinking overhyped perfume. I was intrigued by its showing in the Martini cocktail test, creating a perfumed but very dry drink, but I have to admit I preferred others over it. And it costs over £20 a bottle.

And most interesting of all we had a couple of homemade vermouths. At a previous presentation of Plymouth gin at Graphic we’d been given a promotional booklet that happened to contain a recipe, made by simmering a range of spices in a little white wine then adding this to more white wine plus gin: I’d knocked up a batch (using SW4 gin) just before coming out to the tasting, and its flavours were incredibly strong and vivid. We had another sample of the same recipe, which David had prepared some months earlier—the flavour was consistent but had clearly dimmed over time. This particular recipe is quite heavy on cloves and I think if I made it again I might go easy on those, to try and get a more balanced flavour.

So, which came out on top?

Noilly Prat and Homemade (joint winners)



A special prize also goes to Jean de Lillet as the best drunk neat.

By and large we found that the character a vermouth exhibited neat was the same as the impression it gave in a Martini, although I admit I was surprised by the homemade one. There were some who considered this concoction their favourite of the whole tasting. I wouldn’t say that myself, but I was struck by how well it went with gin; that unexpected clove note actually marries quite well with SW4’s powerful spice elements, to give a sort of Christmas Martini.

Aside from that, the end results are perhaps not that surprising: many regard Noilly as the vermouth of choice and Dolin is used a lot in bars. You’ll notice, of course, that Martini Extra Dry itself does not feature among the winners. Personally I was slightly surprised how well did work in the cocktail, given that, tasted neat, it was easily overshadowed by more sophisticated examples. But I still prefer Noilly Prat overall.

Three of the best: the murky liquid in the SW4 bottle is the homemade
vermouth. Did I not mention it is cloudy and brown? I suspect that just
straining it through muslin or double layer of tea towel would sort that out
Tasting notes
Tranche A
1. Cinzano Extra Dry A vanilla sweet nose. Palate is sweetish and reminiscent of buttery biscuits. But I can’t imagine choosing to drink it on its own.
2. Bellino Extra Dry Has a strangely “farty” aroma, though this mercifully quickly dissipates, leaving a dry nose. Fruity and a bit watery on the palate, reminding you more that it is made from wine.
3. Noilly Prat A muscaty honey nose, a bit like a Sauternes, with elements of vanilla and citrus and a dusty aromatic quality too. This is the first one that actually smells appetising. The honey carries on to the palate and it is slightly buttery but dry with a little bitterness in the aftertaste. I got a hint of avocado.
4. Dolin A balanced nose, with piney retsina notes sitting evenly with vanilla and citrus. Some detected brandy and salt too. The palate is sweeter than you expect from the nose, plenty of honey and fruit. And yet for me it’s less complex than the Noilly.
Best of Tranche A: Noilly Prat, very closely followed by Dolin
Tranche B
5. Top Shelf (wine) This is an essence that DBS acquired. Oddly, the instructions tell you to add it to either wine or vodka—as if it doesn’t matter which. This sample is made with wine. It smells like a French urinal. Don’t ask me what I mean by that, but that’s what comes into my head. Beyond that it is dusty and piney—as someone suggested, perhaps that is the pine-scented cube in the urinal. It is strongly flavoured, of vanilla, pine and lemon, but it is not really very nice.
6. Top Shelf (vodka) Smells warmer and more perfumed, with still a strong pine element. It is sweeter on the palate; I’m assuming water has been added to bring the ABV down, and this does taste a bit watery, but also has interesting elements of rosemary, thyme and apple peel.
7. Gancia Bianco This should have been Gancia Dry but they sent us the wrong one. It has a strong aroma of orange rind with a bit of blossom in there too. On the palate it is sweet, the sweetest of the lot, a fairly simply taste but quite nice. The finish shows elements of grapefruit, melon and mango.
8. Stock Extra Dry Smells a bit oxidised—sour, woody and sherryish. Dig a bit deeper and you find vanilla, citrus and something herbaceous, but there is also a taint of damp cardboard. This carries on to the palate, which is thin and dry and not much more than that.
Best of Tranch B: Gancia
My "vermouth matrix" of glasses for the 16 samples
Tranche C
9. Jean de Lillet Reserve 2006 This is a barrel aged version of the Bordeaux aperitif, and it has a clearly more refined flavour. I think this has a slightly pinkish colour, and the nose is like a rubber strawberry with biscuits and a distinct wood-aged note. On the tongue it is delightful, sweet with orange blossom and lime cheesecake, then grapefruit on the finish. But it’s more like a dessert wine, great to drink on its own, but probably too subtle for mixology.
10. Homemade (made that day) The nose is huge, with hits of vanilla, grapefruit, rose and pine (note that, of these, only vanilla is actually in the recipe!). The palate is dominated by cloves. Some at our table thought it was their favourite so far, but I wouldn’t say that. It makes me wonder whether I shouldn’t have found a better wine base (I used a cheapish Sicilian Cataretto-Chardonnay).
11. Lillet Blanc A pleasant but less sophisticated nose than the reserve, exhibiting wood and orange notes with a hint of pears. The palate is sweet and orangey—not surprising considering that, as far as I can tell, it is made simply by mixing wine with liqueurs made from sweet, bitter and green oranges.
12. Martini Extra Dry The nose is rubbery and wine-like, and a bit dusty, dry and sour. On the palate it is the driest yet, perfumed yet bitter, with elements of pine resin and berry fruit. 
Best of Tranch C: Jean de Lillet 2006 very closely followed by the homemade
Tranche D
13. Vya Extra Dry Dark in colour, with an incredibly resinous nose of coal tar soap and freshly creosoted fence. The palate is heavy, without being that sweet; it’s very woody, and feels like it’s coating your teeth, then has a grapefruit finish. Rather extraordinary.
14. Homemade (some months old) Very similar to no.10, but much softer, sweeter and with more buttery oak (which will be down to the base wine used).
15. Filipetti I’d not encountered this brand before. The nose seemed well balanced, fresh and energetic, but with not a lot of character. Like an amalgam of some of the others already tasted (in fairness it may have suffered from coming towards the end). The palate is surprisingly tart.
16. Martini Gold We deliberately kept this one till last. It’s quite dark in colour and has a strong element of bergamot on the nose with hints of blossom and lavender (though there is no lavender in there). Sadly, though, it is perfumed in a way that reminds me of scented handwipes. “A bit ladyboy,” is Dave Hollander’s pronouncement. The palate is a bit disappointing after the exotic nose, bitter-sweet. I may or may not be picking up the saffron, which is where the colour comes from.
Best of Tranche D: Filipetti

Beer report—this just in from Belgium…

Tony Reid, a New Sheridan Club member currently exiled to Belgium, sends this report on beers he recently sampled:

Mc Chouffe
Oddly Scottish-leaning Belgian gnome. Chestnutty, low-foaming, weak-headed brew with an aroma of… not a great deal; vague malt with a bit of stickiness. The flavour follows this. The "Mc" bit seems to be part of an odd Belgian affiliation with Scotland, and a deep confusion about what the Gaels drink. There is a similar beer which claims all sorts of tartan connections, but which is brewed in Antwerp, and only visits its supposed birthplace in tins, on the cheap. This beer feeds the Belgian love of the sweet and alcoholic (8%) but lacks in nearly every other reportable factor, which is a shame, as the chaps at LaChouffe can really brew, of which more later.

A rather quaint, artisanal-looking beer with a grolsh-style opening which makes a Pavlovian pop. Mild, light head which disappears in a moment. Aroma is mild but light, elderflower and citrussy, colour is more amber than your standard lager. Taste is distinctly biscuitty and moreish, there’s enough bitterness to it that it’s not cloying, but it has the carbohydrate Pringles quality which makes you want to take a full mouthful and keep topping up. Not overstated on the flavour, hence very drinkable, though I shouldn’t want more than a gallon. Jesus, it’s 9.5%.

Keizer Karel
Robijn Rood
Charles Quint
It’s not due to it being the third of tonight’s review subjects that I can’t work out what this is called—it genuinely seems confused. Named after some chap from sixteenth century Gent, variously called Charles Quint and Keizer Karel, it is "robin red" although the actual delivery suggests rather a wet robin. It foams nicely but not excessively and smells of bonfire toffee, and tastes only slightly lighter. I wouldn’t say I don’t like it, but it doesn’t taste of beer. If it were flat, what would it be? There’s some hop to it, but it’s more like a mead for its profound sugariness. Shan’t be laying any down for the summer. 8.5%

Oh, the glamour of it

Left to right: our DJ MC Fruity, shadowy co-proprietor Nick, me, Clayton Hartley, the less shadowy co-proprietor, our regular bartender Alex, Fleur de Guerre (seated), Jeni Siggs, and "TV's" Curé Michael Silver 

Just thought you might be amused to see this portrait that Time Out (a London listings magazine) took of some of the Candlelight Club crowd. It was taken in a space that we have never actually used for the club, because it is too small, but it does a reasonable job of capturing the stripped-down candlelit ambience—though we don't have anything as fancy as gold-framed mirror! (I suspect half the denizens of the club don't have reflections anyway.) That's Alex, our chief bartender, whose day job is at the Dean Street Townhouse. The ladies are Fleur de Guerre and Jeni Siggs, both vintage bloggers. On the far right is Curé Michael Silver, a real priest who has, I believe, attended every Candlelight Club event so far. He is certainly a game sort—he recently appeared on ITV's Take Me Out dating show…

Monday 7 March 2011

Pancake Day Cocktail - The Pancake Punch

Tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day), and folks across the country will be flipping and tossing pancakes throughout the day. Whether you like you crepes with jam, syrup, stilton, chocolate spread or just the classic lemon and sugar here’s a drink you may enjoy:

The Pancake Punch

The Recipe
15ml of Pancake Powder Mix
25ml Dark Rum
10ml Sugar Syrup
60ml Milk
Combine ingredients, with ice, in a cocktail shaker. Shake very vigorously, ensuring all the powder has dissolved. Take a Champagne saucer or cocktail glass; sugar coat the rim and add a slice of lemon or lime. Strain and pour the cocktail into the glass.

The Taste
The Pancake Punch (technically I’m not sure it actually IS a punch) tastes like a mix of Egg Nog and cake batter, but it is rather tasty. The sugar rim and the citrus fruit signify the lemon and sugar many people sprinkle on their pancakes but the citrus slice can also be use to sharpen the drink up a little if you find it too sweet. If you used to like licking out the cake-mix bowl when you were a child, you may well enjoy The Pancake Punch.

Wednesday 2 March 2011

Lemon Distillate

The Juniper Society & Lemon Distillate

Last Monday, Mrs. B, Hartley and I attended The Beefeater Gin Juniper Society at Graphic Bar in Golden Square, Soho. For the first half of the evening we enjoyed tutored tasting of three Beefeater Gins, led Master Distiller Desmond Payne. After a brief break to pick up refreshment (Gin & Tonic) we took part in a cocktail competition using a variety of tea syrups and infusions to make cocktails; this picked up on the tea elements of Beefeater 24.

In addition to the events of the evening I was also given a wax-sealed bottle from the industrious Gin Blog. I was told, in a whisper, that it was a sample bottle of Lemon Distillate. I'm not sure what high jinx the folks at The Gin Blog are planning but I have a shrewd idea they want to/are making a gin.

How exactly is it made? Carterhead or Pot still—it's all mysterious. Even the exact ABV was a matter of intrigue.

But how does it taste?

Own: nose of lemon rind and almond. Silky initially with some warmth; lemon, with touch of pear. Quite dry amaretti and lemon on the finish.When I added some water I noticed the gin began to louche (see picture) this is not unlike one of the distillates of Hendricks Gin.

From Freezer: becomes more like vodka, there is still some lemon but subtle almond has gone.

With Ginger Ale: (2:1 ratio) turns ginger ale slightly cloudy, looks like ginger beer. A nice burst of lemon and the nutty elements of the distillate go nicely with the ginger. An alternative to a gin buck and a good one at that.

HOT!: (Hot water and a teaspoon of honey added) and interesting warmer, without the sharpness of a normal hot toddy,the lemon flavours that are there go well with the honey and on a cold day like today it's perfect.

Thank you to The Gin Blog for providing me with a sample and I'll looking forward to future developments.

Juniper Society March:
14th Gin Mare
28th Bols