Tuesday 26 July 2011

The Marmalade Cocktail

I was recently lucky enough to pick up a battered first edition of The Savoy Cocktail Book for £10. Included is a recipe for the Marmalade Cocktail. Being rather a fan of this preserve and having been impressed with Chase Marmalade Vodka I thought I'd give this cocktail from the 1930 book a try.

Heaped Teaspoon Marmalade
35ml Dry Gin
Juice of half a lemon
Shake Vigorously with Ice

Strain and serve with a squeeze of orange rind (twist of orange)

For Gin I used Tanner's Hereford Gin and my Marmalade of choice was Shazzam's Gin & Tonic Marmalade.

It reminds me a little of a white lady but with a sweet orange tang, very crisp and perfect as pre-lunch cocktail. I particularly like the cleansing tartness of the citrus and the fact it is not too sweet.

Monday 25 July 2011

Update from the Lab..#6 Eastern Promise Gin - Update with Tasting Notes!

It's amazing what you can learn on Twitter. Today alone, I've learnt that some folks are aeging gin for over ten years and that one of their varieties is bottled at a heady 67.4% ABV! But perhaps the most interesting conversation today led me to a little experiment. One tweeter is off on holiday to Turkey and I suggested they look out for Gin Istanbul (a juniper spirit made in the country that spans two continents). This led to a lighthearted comment by the Gin Monkey that she imagined it would taste like Turkish Delight. After some discussion on the merits of this, I am proud to present:

Sipsmith Turkish Delight Gin

I decided to use Sipsmith as it a very characterful gin, with a heavy dose of juniper; therefore, it should stand up to the sweet rose flavours of the confection.
I also decided to use powdered sugar Turkish Delight (Sultan's), rather than the chocolate covered variety (Fry's); I thought that the addition of chocolate would be too much and is perhaps an experiment for another day.

#1) Remove the powdered sugar from the Turkish Delight (lest the gin be too sweet)*
#2) Cut the Turkish Delight into smaller pieces; this increases the surface area (a point that I'm sure is not lost on the plethora of biologists that read this site).**
#3) Add Turkish Delight to a pot/jam jar (I used 4 pieces)
#4) Add Sipsmith Gin (200ml)***
#5) Wait... (For about 24 hours)
#6) Strain, I just used a tea strainer and I discarded the last 10% from my bottling as it had a heavy sediment.

I only started this today, so it's not ready yet, but rest assured that, when it is, you will receive an update, and an Eastern Promise Martini will be yours for the making.

The Long-awaited Results!

Nose: certainly of rose with a slight gelatinous quality (maybe by association rather than anything else) as well as juniper and citrus.
Taste: Initially sweet rose and then the dry more bitter notes from the gin, juniper and coriander. Medium to long finish of juniper and Turkish Delight. I'm please to say it wasn't too sweet and that the flavour really comes through.

The gin-soaked Turkish delight pieces were rather tasty although incredibly intense, I'm glad I had Mrs B. to help me eat them.

Gin & Tonic
Although the gin is a light yellow in the bottle with tonic it becomes ever so slightly pink. In this drink the flavour of the gin is much more subtle, but it is still there. It is as if some mysterious beauty had just softly brushed your arm and you've taken in a waft of her perfume.**** But it is more delicate and quite intriguing.

A light parchment yellow, the flavours of Turkish delight come over well, I can imagine this would be very similar to Will's marvelous creation. Possibly my favourite way to drink the Turkish Delight Gin.

* You could do this by licking the sugar off, but I decided to rinse it with filtered water instead—just as effective and probably less offensive.
** Turkish Delight is notoriously difficult to cut up, so be careful and, if you're having trouble, ask an adult to help you.
*** Other gins are available. I imagine something like SW4 would also work well.
**** I guess this suggests that they've been dabbing Sultan's (or gin) behind their ears?

Saturday 23 July 2011

A new Perfect Partner for SW4 - The Gin of Champions?

This lazy weekend, I have experimenting with Thomas Henry drinks, a range of German mixer. Starting with their tonic, I tried it in a variety of guises, but the most enjoyable was clearly in a Gin & Tonic. My gin of choice was SW4, the gin of Champions. It's getting to the stage where I have tried nearly 50 different varieties of tonic water and I must say that, along with 1724, Thomas Henry is one of the "new kids on the block" that makes superb drinks.

I used the standard 40% ABV SW4 in a 2:1 (Tonic:Gin) ratio with Thomas Henry's Tonic Water. Here are my tasting notes:

There's an initial burst of freshness; the tonic brings out a lot of the citrus notes from the gin, but the juniper is still rather prevalent. This is a drink that is exceptionally refreshing, rather delicious and a great way to cool down on a hot evening. Unlike many tonics, Thomas Henry's does not overwhelm the drink, nor does it bring any unwelcome flavours or cloying textures. A great complement that enhances the gin, rather than covering it up.

For more information on Thomas Henry Mixers: http://www.thomas-henry.de/
For more information on SW4 Gin, check out their brand new website: http://sw4gin.com/

Monday 18 July 2011

Marmite XO: the spread of kings?

I was mooching through my local Sainsbury’s and I literally stopped dead when I spotted this. OK, it isn’t actually booze but it clearly uses booze terminology and, I would suggest, is clearly trying to borrow the glamour, cachet and exclusivity of premium aged spirits.

Marmite XO has been made, it says here, “Using four specially selected yeast sources. Our master blender has crafted the secret Marmite recipe and matured it for four times longer to create a Marmite so strong and full-bodied it can only be for the most devoted of lovers.” 

I confess I wasn’t aware that Marmite was matured at all. Perhaps it isn’t really, but as the actual recipe is a secret, who knows? Marmite is made from concentrated brewer’s yeast and was invented by accident in the late 19th century by German scientist Justus von Lieig. The original factory was in Burton upon Trent, where they used by-product yeast from the Bass brewery. During the First World War it was issued to British soldiers because of its high vitamin B content.

So from a marketing point of view, with Marmite XO they are going down that familiar “you either love it or hate it” route, by making a version that is like Marmite regular (a simple Table Marmite, I suppose) but more so. And given that Marmite is made from a brewing by-product, it’s not so strange that they should use alcohol concepts to sell it. It’s not the first time they’ve produced a special verision: in 2007 there was a Guinness version using 30% Guinness yeast, in 2009 there was a Marston’s Pedigree version, and in 2008 they even made a Champagne version, using 0.3% added Champagne (the wine, as far as I can tell, rather than Champagne yeast).

So, what does Marmite XO taste like? At first I was convinced that it did have a greater depth of flavour, but tasting it side-by-side I have to admit that I don’t think I can really tell the difference, nor does XO seem any stronger (but then it’s hard to tell, because it depends on how thickly you spread it).

Still, it’s a great jar.

Now, if you’ll excuse me I must go and continue working on my range of single-vineyard crisps and barrel-aged washing up liquid…

Sunday 17 July 2011

Heavy Water vodka

The 1965 war film The Heroes of Telemark was on TV a few weeks ago, about the plucky Norwegian resistance saboteurs who stopped the Nazis from using heavy water made at the Vemork Norsk Hydro plant in Norway to develop nuclear weapons. By interesting coincidence, only the day before I had been at the Distil spirit show and had encountered an engaging vodka called Heavy Water, which is named after the same incident.

Heavy Water photographed at Distil

OK, just look at the picture—it’s called Heavy Water, and it comes in a bottle with what looks like a fuel rod in it. What’s not to like? According to Mark Chapman, MD for Europe and Asia, the plastic rod is an aerator (though he also admitted that primarily it was there to look cool).

Heavy Water has a creamy, vanilla, almost toffee nose with, for me, a hint of strawberry fruitiness. The palate shows the same sweet fruit but it is not oleaginously smooth—there is a peppery edge that leaves a tingling on the tongue. I compare it to some Adnams Longshore that is to hand, and the Adnams has a woodier nose and perhaps a smoother palate. Sipsmith has a similar sweet, fruity nose to the Heavy Water but a very smooth palate; Chase potato vodka has a similar toffee element, which carries over on to the palate, again giving a very smooth impression. Finally I compare the Heavy Water to some Krepkaya strong Russian vodka—which has sharper, thinner nose, with a hint of grapefruit; in the mouth it is fiery (but then it is 56% ABV). For me the Heavy Water has an interesting balance between a sweet, fruity approachability and backbone that makes its presence felt.

I try a vodka Dry Martini using Heavy Water. I’m normally much more of a gin Martini man myself, but this cocktail works remarkably well, with the vodka lending a plump, creamy mouthfeel, but with that peppery character poking through the vermouth too.

So what about this aerator rod? You don’t actually seem to be able to unscrew this assembly, so you can’t compare the vodka poured through the rod with vodka just poured normally. The best I can do is pour some into a shot glass, up to the brim, then clingfilm over it and leave it for about 48 hours, then compare this with some freshly poured through the mighty aerator. There is actually a difference—the fresh-poured is smoother and fruitier, whereas the previously poured stuff has a more medicinal nose and an oddly flat, almost smoky element to the flavour. But I have no idea is this is simply an effect of making the vodka sit in a shot glass under clingfilm for 48 hours.

The hydrogen plant at Rjukan, Telemark. It is not involved in the production
of Heavy Water vodka (and in fact was destroyed by bombing in the war)
Heavy water is water in which a high level of the normal hydrogen atoms are replaced by deuterium, an isotope that has a neutron in the nucleus as well as a proton (normal hydrogen just has the proton). Deuterium occurs naturally in a ratio of one to every 6,400 hydrogen atoms. In ordinary water there is about one deuterium atom to every 156 million, but at the Norwegian plant they found a way of producing deuterium-enriched water. Although not radioactive, heavy water had the property of stabilising early experiments in nuclear fission, which was why Jerry was keen to get his hands on it. Heavy water is indeed heavier than regular water.

You should be pleased to hear that Heavy Water vodka doesn’t contain any more heaviness than ordinary water (heavy water in concentration in the bodies of humans and animals stops cell division, so will ultimately kill you). It is actually made in Sweden, on the shores of lake Vänern, from Scandinavian winter wheat and water from an artesian well, apparently from a subterranean lake formed during the last Ice Age. The marketing bumf makes great play of the five-times distillation, the filtration through Norwegian black birch charcoal and the rarefied water source, claiming that Heavy Water is the “purest vodka in the world”. Privately owned, it was actually launched in 2005, and I was intrigued to discover that Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller were involved.

“Anistatia and I had been living in Boise, Idaho,” Jared explains in response to my questions, “where we worked as tasters on Bardenay Gin as it evolved from something we were making on a glass chemistry set still in a one-stall employee toilet (the only part of the building licensed at the time), to when it was being churned out on a gleaming Holstein copper pot still.

Kirk Douglas sports a stylish sweater in the film
“But, buckling under pressure from our editors at Wine Spectator and Cigar Aficionado, and Random House, we moved back to New York. Once there, Anistatia decided to get a job outside the house and became creative director for a marketing and PR firm. One of the first clients she was presented with was Heavy Water, in the pre-natal stages of start-up, but with a decent set of guys behind it. I was invited to the meeting as well.

“We thought the bottle was novel, the name was good, and then tasted the product they were going to fill the bottle with. We looked at each other for a minute, thanked them for coming and walked out of the room. We didn't want our names anywhere near it. The young CEO was deeply offended, but one of the older guys at the table followed us out and asked if we thought we could do better. We tasted their vodka every morning for a week, then sent our organoleptic analysis off to them. The distiller, impressed we knew his starting and finishing fermentation temperatures by the taste of the final product encouraged them to bring us over. A month later we were working through the first samples in Norway and Sweden.

“We finally got it to the point where we were happy with it. One of the investors had insisted that the spirit not be entered in any competitions. ‘I’ve got a lot of money in this and a bad score would kill it,’ or words to that effect. Anistatia took a gamble and sent it off to the Beverage Tasting Istitute anyway. They liked it. They liked it a lot. It got best spirit in the white spirits category and a nice high score [94 points]… Heavy Water went on to rack up an impressive list of medals and accolades. But without a giant bankroll to fund the roll out, it has remained a boutique brand.”

Heavy Water vodka can be had for about £30 a bottle if you can find it. The only online source I have found is Drinkology—who are really German.

Thursday 7 July 2011

When I met Metté - An Eau-de-Vie Tasting

Just some of products Metté produces.
I recently found myself in my old surroundings of the City, heading up Threadneedle Street to Bond’s Bar; once famous for their Truffle Martini. The reason? An Eau-de-Vie tasting with Metté and Amathus.

What is Eau-de-Vie?
Eau-de-Vie (“water-of-life”) is a (generally) colourless fruit brandy made by fermenting or macerating fruit and then distilling the resultant mash. Some producers age their products, but this is not essential. It is very similar to German or Austrian schnapps.

Metté have been making Eau-de-Vie for over 50 years and, today, the distillery is run by husband and wife team, Philippe and Nathalie Trabber, although it was founded in the 1960s by Jean Paul Metté, Philippe’s godfather. In 1985, Jean Paul started teaching Philippe the art of distilling and in 1997, Philippe and his wife purchased the distillery. Distiller Metté is located in Ribeauville, North-East France in the heart of the Alsatian Vineyards. Today, the distillery makes over 87 spirits and 25 liqueurs.

When Metté makes Eau-de-Vie it uses one of two methods:

My tasting glasses and sheet of copious notes.
1) Fermentation
Fruit is fermented using only the fruit’s natural sugar. No sugar or yeast are added. Maceration times vary depending on the fruit. After maceration, the fruit is distilled twice.
This style is used for pears and stone-fruit such as apricots and sloe berries.

2) Maceration
The second method is the one favoured for more delicate floral and herbal flavours and berries. The ingredients are macerated in the alcohol and then distilled once. Again, the maceration period varies, for example, raspberry only takes 6 days, whereas ginger takes 8-10 weeks.

Wild Raspberry
At our tasting, we tried six Eau-de-Vie (all bottled at 45% ABV) and one liqueur (30% ABV):

1) Apricot
This is aged for 6-8 years in stainless steel vessels, which is thought to make the drink more balanced. There is also an XO Apricot Eau-de-Vie available, which is aged for 15 years. The aging vessels are kept outside and so are subject to temperatures ranging between 45oc in summer to -20 in winter; these large swings are thought to improve the results of the aging.

Nose: Dry apricot stones, as well as a hint of the fresh, sweet flesh. Like a dry apricot liqueur.
Taste: Dry sweetness, but it still has the jamminess of an apricot preserve. There is some warmth and a little tongue-tingle and bite. A long, floral-perfume finish. A fine start to the tasting.

2) Vieille Mirabelle (Plum) – Aged 12 years
Nose: Dry plum with some almond and vanilla.
Taste: Like a very dry sloe gin; spicier and more flavoursome than the Apricot. Overall, this is a more intense product. A nice balance of sweet and dry, I thought the product really opened up with a little drop of water, bringing a rich fruitiness and a full-bodied mouth feel.

3) Wild Raspberry – Aged 6 years
This is macerated for 5 days and distillation takes place 24 hours a day whilst it is being made to prevent oxidisation from spoiling the fruit.
Nose: Fresh raspberry with a hint of blackberry; quite sweet.
Taste: Exceptional; it tastes like I have just bitten into a freshly picked, perfectly ripe raspberry. Astounding. Smooth and sweet at the start, with a gradual building warmth. Probably the best fruit spirit I have had.

4) Marc de Gerwurztraminer (Greengage)
I must admit that I’m not too familiar with the taste of Greengage fruit.
Nose: Apple, pear and a little kiwi. Dry, not too sweet. Some hints of lightly oxidised apple flesh.
Taste: Fruity; fresh apple with a little citrus and rather jam-like. Lots of flavour with hints of almond and marzipan on the finish.

5) Pepper – Aged 15 years
I was expecting something rather hot and peppery (as in black pepper), but what I found was quite different.
Nose: Spicy and fruity.
Taste: Some heat, but rather light; the flavour is of red bell pepper. This is fruity, which goes well with the press pepper flavours. There was a hint of mint and lemon and, overall, quite a crisp spirit. Herbal and intense with some spice. Superb.

We had already had one surprise with the sophisticated flavour profile of this spirit, but we were in for another when Nathalie announced that she liked to drink it with tonic water. Having just come from Imbibe (and being an ardent gin fan), I happened to have some tonic water with me, so we gave it a try*:

There’s a dry fruitiness that you might expect the gin to provide in a Gin & Tonic, but there is also a rich jammy fruitiness and some spicy pepper, too. It’s lighter and more full-bodied than a Gin & Tonic, with a touch of elderflower. Very refreshing, delicious and unlike anything have ever tasted before.
Quince Liqueur
6) Ginger – Aged 6 years
Nose: Superb. There’s no mistaking the fresh fiery, spicy scent of ginger; some sweetness akin to gingerbread.
Taste: Very very good; not too sweet and the ginger is not too overpowering. Very fresh, like freshly cut ginger root. Some citrus, too, giving the spirit a pleasant zesty quality. There was also a little butter or cream, like that from a really good quality ginger beer.

7) Quince Liqueur
This is based on the Quince Eau-de-Vie (aged 6–8 years), but the liqueur itself is un-aged. Fruit and sugar are added to the quince spirit to make this sweeter variety. This maceration process takes 6 weeks.
Taste: Sweet and jammy with warmth and a lingering drynness. Very pleasant. Some almond and marzipan notes as well as a hint of rose Turkish Delight.

In Conclusion

It was great to try just some of the range Metté has to offer, Eau-de-Vie is certainly more diverse than I thought. I'd never expected to be able to taste such, full rich and fruity flavours. My favourite has to be the Wild Raspberry but the Ginger & Pepper (especially with tonic) were not far behind.

*Pepper & Tonic
[25ml Metté Pepper Eau-de-Vie, 50ml tonic water; serve over ice in a tumbler]

Tuesday 5 July 2011

SW4 Champion Strength - Gin of Champions @ 47%

Yesterday saw Mr Hartley and me heading over to Graphic Bar to enjoy the joint first birthday of the Juniper Society and SummerFruitCup. The celebrations were fueled by SW4 Gin (check out their new website here) and Sip or Mix. SW4 was the first gin to sponsor the Juniper Society a year ago and has since become part of the family, not just at the Juniper Society, but here, over at the IAE.

There were various party games and one of these was a lucky dip; I was lucky enough to pick up  a bottle of the rare 47%ABV SW4. This had a very limited production run (just 15 bottles); one of these was siphoned down into miniatures, so there are just 14 left. My understanding is that the majority of these will be sold to a lucky few and each will be signed by Martin Price (Mr SW4) himself. It's the same botanical mix as SW4, but is bottled at 47%ABV rather than the usual 40%ABV.


Very soft and smooth, especially for 47%; juniper and citrus come across first, followed by some spice. When compared to the 47%, the 40% seems a lot more earthy and rooty. The 47% seems to have a stronger flavour profile and a great warming (but not burning) effect on my throat.

Gin & Tonic
Initial thoughts: juniper, light spice and fresh. Strength in both the juniper and citrus and you can tell this is a stronger gin & tonic, but, like Plymouth Navy Strength, the strength does not ruin the drink.** As the ice melts a little, the flavours open up and I'm now getting some angelica, too, and a touch of anise at the end. Tasty, with a long finish.

Martini (5:1) with Dolin Dry
Exceptionally clean and crisp, and very easy to drink. Works really well with Dolin vermouth and there are juniper, citrus and floral/perfume notes, although none of these are overpowering. The main feature, though, is how clear and clean it is; it would be difficult to tell it was 47%. Superb.

I'm fond of both the 40% and the 47% SW4, but I think that, generally, the 40% is more versatile for cocktail making and the 47% is better to be drunk on the rocks or in a Martini. The Martini it made was exceptional. I'm glad I got a chance to try 47% SW4.

* For more detail contact Jenny at hello@sipormix.com
** Some gins can pull the strength off, and some can't. I've had some gins that tasted like they were 50% and they were only 40% or 37.5% - the alcohol was that rough.