Monday 31 December 2012

Fentimans & Bloom Pre-mixed Gin & Tonic

Fans of the site will know that I have a penchant fro premixes and it has been a puzzlement to me that no-one had made a very decent pre-mixed gin and tonic so imagine my intrigue when I saw that Fentimans had teamed up with Bloom Gin to make a high-end gin and tonic.

This is bottled in Fentimans standard 250ml bottle and comes with a high-end price tag of £3.99 a bottle (I got mine for a discount to £3.50).

It is bottled at 6.5%ABV which as Bloom is bottled at 40% means the drink is one part gin to six parts tonic.


CHILLED: OK but too bitter at the end and only a little zestiness. The gin is there but it is rather lost. Part of this is due to the alcoholic weakness of the gin.

WITH ICE: much better with ice but still decidedly mediocre. Not even a patch on a fresh made Bloom Gin and tonic; which can be superb!
Fentimans-wise I'd rather have a chilled bottle of their (non-alcoholic) ginger beer on it's own.

This combination does neither the gin the tonic or the attractive bottle justice.

In Conclusion
To my mind this disappointing product is a waste of time. The gin is not nearly strong enough and it represents poor value for money.

Friday 21 December 2012

Kopparberg Naked Apple sparkling cider

Continuing our recent spate of cider articles, perfect to refresh yourself in this warm weather. Today we will look at another Kopparberg, namely Naked Apple.* This was released in late april 2012 and designed to be a scantily clad** version of their cider, basically it is just apple rather than being adulterated with another flavour.*** It is bottled at 4.5% ABV.

On with the tasting...


Nose: Sour apple (like a Bramley)
Taste: Fresh, crisp and slightly tart. Medium-high fizz, some hints of vanilla and winter spice; a very respectable fizzy cider (I usually prefer mine still). For any fans of sparkling cider this is definitely worth trying.

Over ice: Clean and crisp dry apple, the fizz is reduced, rather good. I prefer this cider chilled rather than “on the rocks” but if you want that extra cooling factor then the cider holds up well.

* I’m not quite sure why such titillation is applied to apple (Chase’s Naked Vodka is also Apple based.)
** They use the term strip*ed-d*wn but I thought that was too scandalous for the IAE—a place of science.
*** Kopparberg have made a plain apple cider before but I remember it being rather different from the Naked Apple (although it is a few years since I last tried it—the old one was fizzier and less crisp.)

Monday 3 December 2012

Beefeater 24 global cocktail competition

The 14 hopefuls set up their stations as guests sample the cocktails and make their choices
I was invited to help judge the Beefeater 24 Global Competition last Wednesday evening at the Shoreditch Studios in London. Beefeater had flown in hopeful bartenders from all over the world, vying for the prize of a trip to Japan, and earlier in the day they had encountered challenges measuring all aspects of modern bartending, including food matching. The organisers are looking for more than just the finished drink, judging overall ability to be a host and, unsurprisingly, an understanding of Beefeater 24 and its history and place in the cocktail pantheon. But our role was simply to taste 14 cocktails and choose our favourite.

It’s always interesting to go into a bar, study the menu, try a few drinks and get a clear sense of how this particularly mixologist’s thoughts and palate work. But it’s not often you’ll find yourself confronted with 14 different sensibilities in the same room. Having said that, it was noticeable how much similarity there was in the ingredients. Tim Stones, a B24 ambassador, explained that the contestants were told they had to include tea (Japanese sencha tea and Chinese green tea are ingredients in Beefeater 24). But grapefruit was also common (grapefruit peel is in the botanical mix of the gin too, along with more conventional orange and lemon peel) as was honey and elderflower. Tim mentioned that in the past you would get clear national styles emerging when judging competitions like this, but nowadays bartending is a much more global community and the styles are more homogenised and the standard higher. (Though he did mention that in an early heat one chap presented a simple gin and tonic as his entry—Tim couldn’t decide if he had misunderstood the idea of the competition or if he just had enormous front…)

These were the cocktails on offer:

Mr Burroughs’ Reviver
Nathan O’Neil, United Kingdom
The Mr Burroughs in question turns out to be Beefeater founder James Burroughs and not, as I had hoped, elegant beatnik hallucinatory wordsmith William Burroughs. The cocktail is a variant of the Corpse Reviver No.2, featuring absinthe (but, mercifully, no heroin, peyote, yage, bug powder, the True Black Meat of the Giant Centipede, or any of the other intoxicants that feature in Mr Burroughs’ oeuvre). The absinthe is infused with lapsang souchong tea, and there is also a green tea and sencha tea syrup, aquavit, orgeat and lemon juice. The nose is dominated by lemon, but the palate is more complex, with notes of honey, warming anise and something floral. I liked these elements but I think overall it doesn’t have the righteous balance of a normal Corpse Reviver.

The Trading Company Martini—not much
like a Martini, really
Trading Company Martini
Marko Radičev, Serbia
Named after the East India Trading Company, this drink takes its inspiration from ingredients that were shipped to this country by that goliath of a corporation (James Burroughs’ father was a tea merchant himself, which is where today’s master distiller Desmond Payne got the idea for B24). It has a nose of weak lemon and a palate that is surprisingly light and thin with a citrus peel/tea bitterness. Probably too bitter for many, and not really much like a Martini.

Diogo Quinaz, Portugal
The name comes from the main ingredients, gin, fresh ginger and grapefruit (jamboa in Portuguese). The nose is of honey and ginger plus a medicinal note and the palate is very bold but very balanced—sweetness from honey, tartness from citrus, tannin dryness from tea and a fiery finish from ginger. This was one of my favourites, robust and to-the-point but also multi-faceted, with all the ingredients playing their part. Which is what a good cocktail is all about.

The So British
Aurélie Pezet, France
Aurélie uses a special blend of Earl Grey (which she considers quintessentially English) flavoured with lime and grapefruit peel and some sort of purple flower for which she could not think of the English name. There is also elderflower and grapefruit juice in the mix. The drink has a surprising pungence from the elderflower and waxy honey, combined with a refreshing citrus tang. The notes of Earl Grey and elderflower do somehow seen redolent of an English summer, so I can forgive the cheesy name.

Diogo Quinaz with his Ginjamboa
Desert Punch
Alexander Frezza, Italy
Alexander takes his inspiration from the Moroccan tea ceremony, and in particular the punch-style idea of a drink as an evolving group experience rather than a single serving. Moroccan tea is poured from a height into small glasses and the drinker is expected to have several of these. The fresh mint in the pot gradually infuses a bitterness into the tea as is steeps, and the saying goes (if I remember it correctly) that the first glass is as fresh as life, the second as sweet as love and the third as bitter as death. Not sure that third glass is really selling itself to me. This simple cocktail—just gin, tea, citrus and mint—is light and does have a refreshing mint flavour with a bitter finish, though I’m not sure it could hold my interest long enough to make it to that deathly third glass.

Mr Oolong’s Fixer Upper
Hasse Bank Johansen, Nordic
Hasse runs a bar in Aarhus, Denmark’s second city, on the Jutland peninsula, where he is pretty much inventing the market. He takes great delight in introducing mixology to people who may never had tasted a cocktail before. He studied bartending in Japan for a while, where his teacher was actually called Mr Oolong and served them all oolong tea each morning to wake them up from the previous night’s indulgence, so this drink was named in his honour. As Hasse says, it is a Martini-style cocktail, with the gin strongly to the fore, plus a homemade oolong cordial, citric acid and some grapefruit bitters. I admired the restraint, giving the podium to the gin rather than trying to show off, while the other ingredients did a good job of adding just the right amounts of sweetness, sourness and tannic dryness. It’s the sort of drink I would actually order in a bar.

Raphaël Trémérie, Belgium
The name is the Latin for cardamom, and the cocktail also has a green tea syrup, apple and lime. Raphaël had a picnic hamper on display with little phials of the ingredients and his suggestion was that it was something anyone could make, though I doubt most people would want to take this chemistry set with them on a picnic. The drink has a vivid green colour which Raphaël said came from the tea, though it looked rather artificial to me (like Monin’s Green Apple Syrup, which may have been involved). The green tea is pronounced and I liked the appley aromatics, though it’s a bit sweet for me with a confectionary note that would probably put me off from drinking very much of it.
Belgium's entry, Raphaël Trémérie's chemistry-set picnic concept of the Elletaria cocktail

La Bella Donna
Sarah Parniak, Canada
Sarah is proud of her Italian roots, hence the name of this drink, though I’m not entirely clear on what’s particularly Italian about the recipe: sencha tea, liquorice, honey, Lillet Rose, orange blossom water, grapefruit oil and a homemade lemon cordial. It has a light, delicate, evasive flavour, with beeswax headiness of the honey and liquorice coming through and, oddly, a hint of rose (and apparently I’m not the only person to get that), even though there is no rose in it. Perhaps it is the blossom combining with something else. I think Sarah said she created the recipe with flavours that reminded her of time spent with her Italian grandmother, and this light, fresh, aromatic drink, does have teasing ghosts of scent that seem reminiscent of a half-remembered past.

As the judges deliberate, in the background Jamil, with his Japanese teapot,
rustles up a coconut-flavoured Coco Verde
Coco Verde
Jamil El Azem, Austria
Jamil described this as a “gin-based fancy Japanese cocktail”, serving it from an elegant Japanese tea pot, and its ingredients include green tea and sake, but also a syrup made from dried coconut. This is very important to him and he kept emphasising how unusual it was to have coconut in a cocktail these days and how he wanted to rehabilitate it as an ingredient. (I think he had consumed quite a few of his own cocktails by the time I spoke to him…) The coconut is actually quite subtle in the finished drink, with tangy lime juice to the fore and the tea clearly present, plus a mysterious earthy element that might come from the sake, with its distinctive dry, savoury flavour. Jamil seemed rather affronted when I suggested an earthy note, but, as I say, he was three sheets to the wind by this stage. Actually quite a poised drink in some ways but perhaps more “interesting” than moreish.

The 24/7 Cocktail
Gregory Ian Sanderson, Australia
When I asked Greg what his cocktail was all about he began a spiel about how the name comes from the fact that as a barman he likes to entertain 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and my heart began to sink. But he’s a likeable chap who had an unusual twist to his offering. The basic recipe is fairly simple, combining the gin with grapefruit juice, elderflower liqueur and his own tea blend that includes sencha and lapsang souchong (he admits the tea on its own is too strong and bitter to be very nice but is designed to work in the cocktail). But just before he serves it he invites you to roll a die on to a wooden backgammon board on which he has laid out little bowls of six of the dried botanicals from the gin. Next to each bowl is an atomiser containing an extract of that botanical. Depending on which number comes up when you roll, Greg sprays that essence into the air over your drink before handing it to you. It’s an interesting idea to build in an element of randomness like this, and also just the idea that each iteration of a cocktail is designed to vary. For me, liquorice root came up, and the nose of grapefruit and elderflower was joined by a woody note. As if that wasn’t enough, Greg serves his cocktail from a teapot, and encourages you to taste a grapefruit-dipped morsel of duck rillette with your cocktail (which goes remarkably well). On its own, though, the cocktail was nice enough, with an interesting bitter-sweet finish, but perhaps a tad disappointing after all the build-up.

Greg dispenses his B24/7, complete with Dice Man spritz and duck rillette
B.P. Ruby @ 24
Eduard Ondracek, Czech Republic
This raspberry-dominated drink has evolved since its inception, its creator told me. An early version that got him through the heats had mint and crushed ice in it, but then the seasons changed so he removed those elements. The version I tasted had an Earl Grey syrup and, oddly, Maldon sea salt in the gin. On the nose, to me, it seemed to smell of tomato, making me expect a Bloody Mary: whether it is the salt doing this (can you smell salt?), I don’t know. On the palate it is mostly fresh raspberry with a rich texture from egg white. The salt is pronounced and it isn’t revolting, but I’m not sure it’s helping much. I think it would make it hard to drink very much of this cocktail.

B24 Martinez
Alex Chatte, Hong Kong
I think in this cocktail the tea was infused directly into the gin, and the other ingredients include Italian and French dry vermouths, grapefruit bitters and a late-harvest Sauvignon Blanc reduction with honeycomb. (Although representing Hong Kong, Alex comes originally from France, so it’s not surprising that wine should feature in his recipe.) Unusually, Alex invites to you try the drink with a nibble of 74%-cocoa-solid chocolate with Szechuan pepper. On the nose the cocktail is dry and aromatic with notes of honey and lavender, while the palate is sweeter and has that now familiar wax note from honey. With sour and tea-tannin bitter elements, the cocktail avoids being cloying, and in fact is relatively light to match with a heavyweight like chocolate, but it does work in an unexpected way. But if you’re going to spend an evening pummelling your liver with cocktails, it doesn’t seem fair to be encouraged to scoff chocs at the same time!

The Watchman’s Wife
Katrin Reitz, Germany
The watchman in the name is the Beefeater himself, guarding the Tower of London, and the reference to his wife is a nod to what Katrin sees as the floral, more feminine elements in this drink. Apples and pears are muddled with a cardamom syrup, oolong tea, rosewater and lime, but this cocktail is most noticeable for being the only one here that uses tonic water (in this case Thomas Henry, a German brand that is very good but hard to come by in the UK). Given that G&T is doubtless the default way of consuming gin for most people in this country (and probably the world), it is surprising that there aren’t more cocktails based on this combo. Katrin’s drink was masterfully balanced, with apple, pear, tea and rose all slotting into place, but you could also just enjoy it as a G&T, and for that reason I ultimately decided it was my pick of the bunch.

Pandora’s Box
Panagiotis Kanavetas, Greece
In addition to curaçao, lemon juice, agave syrup, peach bitters and citrus tea, this cocktail, unusually, featured milk—which I assume is a reference to the milk that is often added to tea. Its creator told me that the tea is usually served as a tea bag, infusing in the cocktail glass, which must further enhance the reference. I’m sure the name came from a desire to highlight his nation’s mythological tradition, though by the time he served it to me Panagiotis had actually changed it: he said he had realised that most of the things that came out of Pandora’s Box were actually unpleasant, so maybe it wasn’t such a great name… The end result is quite simple, with a big citrus jolt, followed by a sort of lactic mouthfeel, then the drying tannins. But to be honest I think I’d sooner just have a cup of tea.

Canada's Sarah Parniak talks a customer through her La Bella Donna cocktail
In the end I gave my top three as 1) the Watchman’s Wife for combining balanced complexity with straightforward drinkability, 2) the Ginjamboa for much the same reason, being multifaceted but bold enough that you didn’t have to concentrate too hard to get interest out of it, and 3) the So British, again a punchy drink with a subtle aura of English-summer grace notes. I’m pleased to say that the Watchman’s Wife won the public vote, so clearly we were all thinking along similar lines.* And it supports the notion that a good cocktail has to be more than just tricksy, playful or complex—it has to satisfy, the sort of drink you want when you just fancy a drink, a drink you don’t have to think about too hard to enjoy.

* The overall winner of the competition, judged by the organisers, was the UK's Nathan O’Neill.

Friday 30 November 2012

Kopparberg Blackberry & Lime and Kopparberg Winter Fruits

On a recent brunch visit to J.D. Wetherspoons I was pleased to see two new varieties of Kopparberg Cider in this watering hole. For a long time Wetherspoons have had exclusive deals with the Swedish Cider company to be supplied with varieties and flavours of the cider that can only be sold in their pubs and bars. I know that at least the blackberry variety is and the pub periodical informs me that a Blueberry and Lime flavour is on the way.

Kopparberg with 
Blackberry & Lime

Nose: Blackberry with the faintest hint of lime
Taste: Some sweetness, sweet berry, quite creamy, medium-high fizz. OK, but not amazing.

With ice
Taste: Quite fresh and crisp; I still don't taste any lime but thirst-quenching and nice enough.

In conclusion

The plain blackberry Kopparberg was one of my favourite, this isn't a patch on that—the inclusion of lime seems rather pointless.

Kopparberg with Winter Fruit

Nose: rich jammy berries with raspberry and blackcurrant
Taste: some apple followed by Ribena cordial. Lots of berry and less fizzy than the Blackberry and lime, only a medium fizz. Quite similar to the kiddies cocktail of Ribena and Lemonade.

With ice
With ice and a bit of dilution the drink seems completely non-alcoholic and really just tastes like blackcurrant and lemonade. Very clean and exceptionally easy to drink. Rather tasty.

In conclusion

It is worth noting that this variety (like the Blackberry & Lime) is bottled at 4.5%ABV rather than the usual domestic 4.0%ABV.

This fact makes the smoothness and drinkability of this cider even more surprising. You could quaff a couple of bottles of this very easily and the effects could really creep up on you.

Kopparberg Cloudberry - Sparkling Cider

On a recent trip to Tesco, while on my usual stroll down the cider aisle on the lookout for something new to try, I came across Kopparberg Cloudberry, which is an apple cider with a hint of cloudberry.

Given the cosmopolitan and learned nature of our readers, I am sure that many will know what cloudberries are, but, typically, we don’t see these very often in the UK.

The cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus) is popular in Scandinavian and Baltic countries, as well as Russia, and is commonly used to make jam in addition to flavouring spirits. They are also popular in Canada, where they tend to be used to flavour beer.

Kopparberg Cloudberry (4.0%ABV)

Nose: Jammy apple, with berries and a hint of spice.
Taste: Medium-high fizz with dry apple upfront, followed by fruity berry notes; these remind me a little of blackberry and a little of raspberry. As the cloudberry is quite a dry berry, this is less sweet than many of the other flavoured Kopparbergs.

With ice:
Not bad; this actually works quite well. Although the sweetness comes through a bit more, the drink has a touch more refreshment. On balance, I like this equally well with ice or just chilled.

In Conclusion

I like some Kopparberg varieties better than others and I think that this is definitely one of the better ones. If you don’t like the mixed berry or mixed fruit varieties I’d suggest trying this one for a pleasant surprise.

Kopparberg Cloudberry is available for around £2.50 for 500ml from Tesco.

Thursday 25 October 2012

Halloween cocktails

I don’t normally go in for visually gimmicky cocktails (in fact I’m even fairly suspicious of garnishes unless, like, say, a lemon peel twist, they clearly add something to the smell and taste). But somehow Halloween seems a bit of an exception: so for the Candlelight Club Ball this weekend I have included a couple of drinks that use creepy layering effects.

The Black Widow: I'm sure there was an ice lolly like this when I was a kid
I suspect people have been floating vodka for years but I admit it had never occurred to me. The Black Widow is adapted from something I found online, created, I assume, for Blavod, a vodka coloured a blueish black using catechu, a herb found in southern Asia and central and east Africa, which it is claimed also makes the vodka smoother; essentially it looks like squid ink but tastes like vodka. The Black Widow is basically a vodka and cranberry juice but I’ve added some Angostura to give it a bit more character (and these bitters have a gingery element that feels seasonal), plus some grenadine,* which you can also layer by dropping it in and letting it sink, like in a Tequila Sunrise. Mind you, against the cranberry juice the grenadine layer doesn’t really show up much. The Blavod layer is remarkably easy to achieve: even if you just pour it in from the bottle the layer forms, though if you use a speed pourer and pour over the back of a spoon you get a neater effect. When it comes actually to drinking the thing, I personally find it is better to mix it all up, though it then turns a pinky grey colour.

Black Widow
2 shots Blavod black vodka
½ shot grenadine*
Dash Angostura Bitters
Cranberry juice
Fill a highball with ice, add a dash of Angostura and fill with cranberry juice to within about an inch of the top. Add the grenadine, which will sink to the bottom. Then float the vodka on the top—it will form an eerie black layer.

The Vampire Kiss is also adapted from an idea I found online; there are several cocktails out there using the name, but this one was originally created by or for Finlandia vodka. However, I took it a step further by making a rose vodka, simply by adding a decent rose petal extract (about two tsp) to a bottle of vodka. (Be warned: some essences, such as the first one I tried, are actually oil-based, which would be fine for making cakes, etc. But the ABV of a typical vodka is not enough to dissolve oil, which requires about 70%.)

If you can keep your vodka cold then this cocktail does not require any shaking: just build in a glass and when you add the Chambord or other crème de framboise it will form a subtle and rather pretty layer. I would have liked to use a candy crucifix as a garnish, but no one seems to make them!

The Vampire Kiss
Vampire Kiss
1½ shots rose vodka
½ shot crème de framboise
Sparkling wine or Champagne top
Garnish: maraschino cherry
Keep the vodka in the freezer/fridge, or on ice, and add 1½ shots to a coupe glass. Top with wine, then add the crème de framboise, which will sink slightly forming a subtle layered effect. Garnish with a cherry.

The other cocktails we’ll be serving are a bit more conventional, but appropriate, I hope. The Apple Bob is a twist on the Dry Martini (and is in fact virtually identical to the Poteeni I came up with for St Patrick’s Day, but using gin instead of poteen), with an autumnal apple flavour. (I can’t explain why the elderflower is in there—somehow the blossomy taste gives the cocktail the extra layer it needs.)

Apple Bob
2 shots gin
1 shot dry vermouth
1 shot apple juice
½ shot Monin Green Apple Syrup
½ shot elderflower cordial
Garnish: apple slice or apple peel spiral
Shake everything together and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a bit of apple if so desired.

The Jack-o’-Lantern was born of a desire to have something that looked orange and tasted somehow like pumpkin. There are recipes out there that use spiced pumpkin purée (which you can even buy ready-made in a can), as you would find in pumpkin pie, but when I tried using this it produced something that looked like pond sludge. I actually quite liked the savoury note from the pumpkin itself, but in the end I plumped for using the spices (cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg) to flavour a syrup instead. The syrup is brownish, which, along with the rum, gives the colour, though if you use an orange curaçao (rather than a clear one) it helps; ginger ale also gives a better colour, though I think it tastes nicer with ginger beer.

2 shots golden or dark rum
½ shot curaçao or triple sec
½ shot pumpkin spice syrup
¼ shot lemon juice
Ginger beer top
Garnish: Orange wedge
Shake everything with ice and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a wedge of orange.

Finally, I wanted to include at least one vintage cocktail, and fortunately its name allowed me to justify the Corpse Reviver No.2. If you look in the Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) it specifies Kina Lillet, a fortified wine with quinine in it which would have added bitterness. This was discontinued some time ago; there seems to be some debate about what it tasted like though there are a number of products that arguably go some way towards recreating it, such as Kina Martini and Cocchi Americano (Lillet themselves insist that their modern Lillet Blanc is virtually the same except that it is actually less sweet than Kina Lillet). Ted Haigh specifies Lillet Blanc and I have always used that, though in fact for me the resulting cocktail is too sweet and orangey (Lillet being a fortified and sweetened wine flavoured with oranges), so I have always increased the gin and reduced the Cointreau. However, I noticed recently that Simon Difford specifies dry vermouth instead. Having tried it this way I am completely converted, and I find it balances perfectly using the original blend of equal parts of all the main ingredients.

Corpse Reviver No.2
Dash/rinse of absinthe
1 shot gin
1 shot Cointreau
1 shot Noilly Prat
1 shot lemon juice
Garnish: maraschino cherry
Rinse the glass with a dash of absinthe. Shake remaining ingredients with ice and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a cherry.

* I always find commercial grenadines rather synthetic tasting, and even a small amount can ruin a cocktail. So I’ve recently taken to making a simple version just by blending equal parts by volume of granulated sugar and POM Wonderful pomegranate juice. Bung it all in a saucepan and heat gently until all the sugar dissolves then allow to cool.

Thursday 18 October 2012

Akvavit: gin's caraway cousin

I briefly visited Denmark earlier this year, so I took the opportunity to bring back some examples of akvavit, the national spirit over there. Akvavit is similar to gin in that it is a distilled spirit flavoured with botanticals, although after infusion the spirit does not normally seem to be redistilled. It is also frequently barrel-aged (although this is now beginning to become trendy with gin too); even the clear examples may have been aged in old barrels that do not impart much colour. It seems that the origins of the drink lie, as with gin, in the believed medicinal properties of the botanicals, and the name comes from Latin aqua vitae, “water of life”—the same as eau de vie and indeed the Gaelic uisge beatha, from which we get “whisky”.

Isidore Henius. Doesn't exactly
look like a party animal, I admit
The defining botanicals in akvavit are caraway and dill, although cardamom, cumin, anise, fennel and lemon and orange peel are also used. One of the products made by Danish akvavit giant Aalborg (owned by Pernod Ricard) even has amber in it. The base spirit is typically made from grain (Aalborg say they use corn) or potatoes. While Norwegians are more inclined to age theirs and savour it at room temperature, Danes are more likely to drink shots of it very cold with food—it is a perfect match for marinated herring.* In fact the Aalborg site seems obsessed with drinking it with lunch (not sure how good an idea this is, given the typical ABV of 42–45%, particularly if you’re going back to work at the sawmill afterwards) and makes various food pairing suggestions with their extensive range of spirits.

The akvavit you’re most likely to encounter is Aalborg’s Taffel Akvavit, apparently the most popular spirit in Denmark. Invented by Isidore Henius in 1846, it is considered a benchmark companion to herring. It has a pronounced, though not overpowering, caraway aroma, along with citrus and maybe a hint of cloves. It’s remarkably smooth on the tongue given its 45% ABV, even sweetish, though I’m assuming this sensation comes from the botanicals (aniseed can give this impression) rather than added sugar. Henius himself was actually a Pole but he settled in Denmark and overhauled the industry through an understanding of modern rectification techniques, producing his Taffel Akvavit as a quality bread-and-butter product that quickly dominated the market. I took the precaution of investing in some marinated herring for this tasting, and I can confirm that the two go together very well, a classic combo of sweet, sour and aromatic spice. These are cold, heady, Nordic flavours. From the freezer it loses some of the wallowy sweetness and becomes sharper, actually making it a slightly better foil for food.

Harald Jensen, clearly the sensitive,
creative one: just look at the hair
Harald Jensen is, like Henius, considered one of the three akvavit godfathers (the third is Anthon Brøndum, whose name lives on in Brøndum Snaps, another Aalborg product); originally wanting to be an artist until his stern father forced him to take over the family distillery instead, Jensen became known for his creative use of botanicals, such as aniseed, ginger, allspice and bitter orange. His Akvavit, now made by Aalborg, inevitably, contains all these ingredients but is broadly similar to the Taffel, though it strikes me as less soft and sweet, a bit fiercer and with some darker, woodier, more bitter notes, maybe with hints of berry fruit, compared to the brighter, simpler flavours of the Taffel. It doesn’t go quite so well with herring. From the freezer notes of orange and dill seem a bit more prominent and, as with the Taffel, it seems to be a better accompaniment to food at this temperature.

Aalborg’s Jubilaeums Akvavit was produced to celebrate the centenary of the firm’s Taffel product in 1946. It is a yellow colour from ageing in American white oak and has a soft nose of coriander, orange and vanilla (presumably from the oak). There is also dill in there too. I find it rather lovely, and I think it would appeal to many a gin drinker because of the pronounced coriander flavour, though it is not a hugely complex drink. It stands up pretty well to herring. I also tried this one frozen, although Aalborg don't prescribe this serve; it actually seems to keep its character more than the last two, although again I feel that it goes better with food (or at least with marinated herring) at a low temperature.

The four-month journey on which every Linie barrel must go
Linie Aquavit (that’s how it’s spelled on the bottle) is also fairly common but is very peculiar in its manufacture (and it is also not made by Aalborg, for once). It is Norwegian in origin and is made from potato-based spirit, flavoured with caraway, aniseed, dill and coriander. This is then aged in barrels previously used for oloroso sherry. But the weirdest is yet to come: the barrels are then taken on a long sea voyage. It is believed that the constant motion of the ship enhances the interaction between the spirit and the wood, but the barrels are always carried on deck, as the exposure to salty sea air and climatic extremes of Nordic storms and baking equatorial heat are also considered important. (Experiments have been conducted to try and synthesise the movement in static warehouses using machinery but apparently it just wasn’t the same.) The name “Linie” refers to the equator. All Linie Akvavit goes on a four-month journey visiting 35 countries and crossing the equator twice. At any time more than a thousand casks of this spirit are out on the seas somewhere. The technique was discovered in 1807 when a captain took a cargo of akvavit to Indonesia hoping to sell it; the Indonesians proved unreceptive to the drink so he had to take it back home again, and it was then that the effect of the voyage on the spirit was discovered.

Linie has a soft but burnished aroma, seemingly with dill as prominent as caraway (although there doesn’t seem to be any dill in it), plus vanilla and orange notes too, and a smooth, sweet caraway flavour with a subtle wood element and a chocolately aftertaste. Being Norwegian, it is recommended to be drunk at room temperature or only slightly chilled, not frozen as the Danes tend to drink it. They also suggest drinking it as a chaser after beer. I found it very agreeable, sweet enough to be approachable but not cloying. It goes OK with marinated herring but not as well as Aalborg Taffel: there is something about the wood that seems to clash slightly.

There is not much of Hven island
I bought some of my samples in the booze section of Magasin du Nord, a famous department store in Copenhagen, simply asking the assistant to recommend something. He selected the Jensen as “something that ordinary Danes drink” and, at the other, artisanal end of the scale, the Aqua Vitae from Spirit of Hven Backafallsbyn, handmade on an island between Sweden and Denmark. This organic spirit is pot distilled in what is only the third pot-still distillery ever built in Sweden, where they make a whole gamut of products including vodka, gin, rum, three different akvavits and single malt whisky in a range of styles. They use no additives and do not carbon- or chill-filter. They are also keen on barrel-ageing—even their vodka and gin spends some time in wood before a final distillation. The akvavit is made from organic wheat alcohol in which herbs, spices and fruits (orange, lemon and St John’s wort are the only ones they name, along with local honey) are macerated for 24 hours and then redistilled. It is aged in American white oak both before and after redistillation.

The range of Hven spirits, all in the trademark 50cl flasks
The spirit is a deep golden colour and comes in a conical 50cl flask with a wooden stopper and a wax seal. The distillery also make a Summer Schnapps and a Winter Schnapps, both with botanical flavorings, and the standard aquae vitae is distinguished from these by being caraway-based; but I must admit I don’t really get much caraway from it myself. It is strikingly different from the other samples tasted here, with a nose predominantly of orange, woody vanilla, fig, chocolate and Christmas spices. It is strong on the tongue but oily smooth, and loaded with mellow wood, chocolate, coffee and subtle aniseed. It’s a classy bit of barrel ageing, redolent of old brandy or rum, with an evolving aftertaste of prunes, cloves and other unexpected flavours. Rather wasted with marinated herring, though it doesn’t clash—the fish brings out the orange and clove flavours, for some reason.

If you’re one of those people who just doesn’t like aniseed then you probably don’t like caraway and you’re not going to like akvavit. But this small handful of examples, from three different countries, goes to show what a varied product it is. As with gin, the use of botanical flavourings gives you scope to take the taste in all kinds of directions, and the common use of wood ageing gives even more scope. I like the simple Aalborg Taffel—which does indeed go splendidly with herring—but the mellow complexity of the Linie and, in particular, the Hven makes for a spirit to be savoured on its own. And if you’re a gin drinker, check out the twinkling, coriander-laced Jubilaeums. Akvavit isn’t cheap in this country, with the basic Taffel selling for about £20 and the Jubilaeums and Linie for £26 (the other two don’t seem to be sold here at all, though you can tour the Hven distillery if you find yourself on the island), but I’d recommend giving it a try.

* The Aalborg site draws a distinction between “marinated herring” and “pickled herring” (which is better with Brøndum Snaps, they reckon), as well as a couple of other kinds of cured herring. The stuff I’m eating is labeled as “marinated” and is quite sweet, flavoured with dill, onions, etc. I’m guessing that by “pickled” they mean a more tart cure.

Monday 15 October 2012

Oval Vodka

Many people will claim that all vodka tastes the same to them, which explains why so many brands essentially look to marketing and packaging to differentiate themselves. The process of making vodka doesn’t give you too much to play with either, although brands will take what opportunities they can to brag about the number of distillations, the filtration method (with an assumption that platinum filtration must surely be better than gold or silver filtration, right?) and the purity of the water they use to dilute. (I gather that modern alcohols are actually so pure that carbon filtration, which may use things like platinum as a catalyst, is actually mainly there to impart flavour, because our conception of what vodka should taste like developed during the era when filtration was necessary to fish out unpleasant or dangerous impurities.*)

Now along comes Oval vodka, a wheat-based product made in Austria that claims to use a whole new process, known as “structuring”. All booze is a mixture of water and alcohol and this technique—which they assure us is entirely “natural”—is said to “bond” water and alcohol molecules together, to produce a smoother taste and reduce the diuretic effect: in short you’ll have less of a hangover. From the website: “The idea of structuring alcohol-water solutions is based on a simple but important fact: the tongue reacts more positively to substances naturally present in the human body—in this case, water—than to foreign substances—in this case, alcohol.” The process of structuring, invented by Russian scientist Valery Sorokin, somehow arranges the vodka so that each alcohol molecule is completely surrounded by water molecules, so that your tongue detects it “as a natural saliva-like substance”. This research took Professor Sorokin some ten years. The, perhaps surprising, decision to locate the distillery making this revolutionary stuff in Austria, rather than Russia, is apparently to do with the purity of the local water** and the logistical benefits of being in the middle of Europe in a place with a decent infrastructure. (Oval aren’t giving too much away about the structuring process itself; I’ve tried searching for Professor Sorokin online but he keeps a pretty low profile, as all references to him are in the context Oval vodka, nor are Oval revealing of exactly which institution he is a “professor”, but they do say he made his discoveries in 2000 in Moscow.)

Given the desire to make the product as smooth as possible it’s interesting that the basic expression is bottled at a higher-than-average 42% (and looking online there seems to be a 56% version too, though that may only be available on the Continent). Even more intriguing is Oval Lite, bottled at just 24%. You might think it would be easier just to add a bit of water yourself—but of course you wouldn’t be able to do it in a “structured” way. The preferred way to drink Oval is neat at room temperature, which shows how confident they are in its essential character.

This stuff retails for a hefty £40+, so unsurprisingly it is packaged in a fancy bottle, essentially tetrahedral in shape, with each facet being an oval. (The tetrahedron is apparently a reference to the molecular shape of the structuring, I was told at the Boutique Bar Show by Danny Hoskins of Smart Drinks UK.) The metal cap is edgily asymmetrical and is weighty in the hand. On the website you will see a version of the bottle covered in rhinestones or Swarovski crystals, resembling Damien Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skull. There’s no explanation as to what this is, but it gives you an idea of the sort of self-consciously high-end, conspicuously-consuming consumer that are hoping to attract.

So what does structured vodka taste like? In order to get a handle on its particular character, I lined up some other products to compare it with, my benchmark everyday vodkas Russian Standard and Green Mark, plus Absolut, Bootlegger (a bit pointless, perhaps, as it is not available in this country, but I happened to have it on the shelf) and Adnams Longshore.

Oval has a soft toffee/caramel nose (though not nearly as pronounced as in the Longshore) with a little fruit and a clean medicinal note; quite balanced. It has an unctuous mouthfeel, though is not as dramatically smooth as I was expecting: there is also a spike of pencil-lead and coffee and an aftertaste of blueberries. And you’re definitely aware that you are drinking alcohol—there is plenty of fire from that 42% ABV. And there is a sweetness, as vodkas go, and a little of what I can only describe as a sort of “cellulose” character, like the taste of paper, that I found to be characteristic of Bootlegger too, and which I might have assumed was something to do with corn (of which Bootlegger is made), but clearly isn’t.

By comparison Russian Standard is big and bouncy with an expansive vegetable nose with notes of sour apples and a peppery, tongue-tingling palate; Green Mark actually seems smoother to me than Oval, with a dry, poised flavour that balances fruit and mineral notes. Longshore goes further down the route of characterfulness, with that arresting caramel nose carried on to the palate with hints of spice such as caraway. Absolut comes out of it badly, tasting flat, sour and very rough.

At the bar show Danny mentioned a perceived sweetness to Oval, and he’s right. After the Longshore, Oval’s toffee aroma seemed comparatively subdued, but it was strikingly sweeter on the tongue. Compared to the reserved character of Green Mark, Oval has a more forward berry fruit flavour.

I try swirling the vodkas with ice, more for a little dilution than cooling. Russian Standard’s veggy notes bloom, Green Mark becomes spicy and shows its dry stiffness. Oval, on the other hand, suddenly releases some citrus aromas and interesting fruit flavours. I then make vodka Gimlets with these three (2½ parts vodka, ¾ part Rose’s Lime Cordial): Russian Standard doesn’t come out of this too well, with its vegetable notes clashing with the sweet citrus. Oval shows more blueberry on the nose and I’m struck again by the sweetness and the papery element too. It’s all a bit too sweet for me; for my palate Green Mark makes the best Gimlet here, a perfect balance of fruit, dry minerality and the sweetness of the cordial.

In a Cosmopolitan (Dale De Groff proportions: 1½ vodka, 1 cranberry juice, ½ triple sec, ¼ lime juice) Oval again seems too sweet to me, unbalancing the drink in a confectionary direction—though some may like that. The same thing happens when you serve it with tonic.

Finally I try a vodka Martini, mixing four parts vodka with one part dry white vermouth. Here I would say that Oval comes into its own, because even at these (relatively wet, to some people) proportions this is a dry cocktail, and the sweetness of the vodka actually makes it quite an approachable drink, especially for those who tend to find the Dry Martini a bit too dry. By comparison Green Mark and Russian Standard make leaner, sterner Martinis.

I’m not really too keen to try and establish whether Oval is less likely to give you a hangover: to do this I would have to quaff a great deal of it in one sitting, and then quaff an identical quantity of another vodka the next night, and compare how I felt the next day in each case. But I’m afraid my remaining liver and brain cells are too precious for this sort of hardcore experimentation.

I haven’t yet been able to try Oval 56 or Oval 24 (Oval Lite in this country), but I would say that Oval 42 is nice enough, with a pleasant nose but a palate that is a bit too sweet for me. It will probably prove popular in nightclubs, where the bottle will look cool and hip denizens can comfortably sip it neat while convincing themselves that, because it’s Oval, they won’t have a hangover when they go to work the next morning…

* This information comes from Technofilter, who actually develop and manufacture vodka filtration systems.
** Mind you, when brands brag out their uniquely “pure” water source, it’s worth bearing in mind that Technofilter also point out that these days it is pretty easy to purify water to any degree you wish.

Friday 12 October 2012

Premixes for preteens?

The premixes in their shaker-shaped bottles
Following DBS’s review on this blog of the pre-mixed cocktails from the Authentic Cocktail Company, I was contacted by the chaps behind another range, Coppa, made in the Netherlands by Toorank BV. While DBS has an unnatural obsession with seeking out premixes, I tend to be wary as I have had few happy experiences in this arena. But it certainly can work: the ready-mixed cocktails from Master of Malt’s Handmade Cocktail Company are not only sterling examples of the premix genre, but represent some of the best examples of these cocktails full stop.

But the Handmade Cocktail Co. range uses classics that contain only spirit, bitters, vermouth and sugar, and are consequently pretty alcoholic—the weakest is the Negroni at 25.5%. At this level they appear to be essentially self-preserving. (In fact part of the thinking is to see what happens when mixed cocktails are allowed to age.) It also means they are pretty pricey, retailing for over £30 per 70cl bottle.

The Coppa range includes ten cocktails,* and the samples sent me were the Cosmopolitan, the Mojito and the Strawberry Daiquiri. (Strawberry? Yes, apparently so.) They come in 70cl bottles, coloured silver and shaped like cocktail shakers, which retail for £8.95. All are 10% ABV.

The marketing bumf suggests that they are aimed at people who want real cocktails but without the fuss and expense of buying all the ingredients. “Developed by professional bartenders using only quality spirits,** Coppa Cocktails taste and look as good as those made at the swankiest bars,” it says here. But they also emphasise the affordability of their product, and I think that everything about them suggests they are not aimed at the same market as the Handmade range. “Coppa is a fun product aimed at a mainstream audience who enjoy cocktails but aren’t what you would call drinks enthusiasts,” explains Pritesh Moody from the UK distributors. “The target audience is the same as that buying ready-made cocktails and premix drinks from Bacardi, Smirnoff, etc, hence the easy-going ABV and corresponding price point.” So, as one can probably guess, it’s aimed at he Bacardi Breezer crowd.

OK, that explains the lack of alcohol. But Pritesh is unable to help me with how the potions are preserved. Let’s have a look at what is actually in the bottles. I have an opportunity to open them in company, with Mrs H., my sister Rachel, my brother-in-law Paul and a friend Alan, who is something of a foodie but is no snob. In fact he likes some quite unexpected things. The instructions suggest serving with ice and we didn’t have a great deal, which may make a difference.

The Cosmos with what little ice we could muster
Vodka, triple sec, cranberry and lime juice. It has a confectionary whiff like boiled sweets and tastes similar, though with a slight bitter aftertaste. It seems reasonably well balanced, but there does seem something a bit synthetic about it. I guess the problem is how you preserve the fruit juice—the label says that, after opening it, you need only keep it somewhere dark and cool: there’s no suggestion it will ever actually go off. So whatever preservative is involved is probably what gives it that strange taste. Having said that, Mrs H. declared that she rather liked it, even though she doesn’t like bitter things (and agreed that there was a bitter aftertaste).
Alan: I quite like it: it’s like the kind of thing you get in a dodgy nightclub and quite like, until you realize it’s only 10% and it isn’t going to get you pissed.
Mrs H: Not as jammy as I was afraid it was going to be.
Paul: The bitterness goes away after a while. Not unpleasant, but needs a lot more vodka in it.
Rachel: Lacks kick; it tastes like fruit juice with a cloying element. The sort of thing a teenager might like.

Alan’s right—a brief trawl through online recipes shows that on average a Cosmo should really be a good 25% ABV, so this is an unconventional one.

Rum, mint, lime juice, sugar. This apparently won Best in Class at the IWSC competition in 2010. Take the cap off and there is a fairly convincing mint smell, quite spearminty, with a hint of caramel. It initially seems more convincing than the Cosmo (a couple of us couldn’t actually finish their glasses of that one), but too sweet and still that bitter aftertaste. That mintiness gets a bit overpowering, like drinking mouthwash—it’s not quite what mint in a cocktail should taste like. As someone pointed out, it is minty like mint sauce, which is a bit disconcerting.
Rachel: Too sweet
Paul: Generally a mojito is a vehicle for the rum—you can taste it and get its specific character, but here you can’t taste rum at all.

It’s true that a mojito is quite fiddly to make, what with all the muddling, so you can see a product like this appealing to someone without the time to make it and who does not want to have to keep all the ingredients in (fresh mint won’t last long in the fridge). I also wonder if the market is (young) people who like the idea of cocktail sophistication but don’t have the confidence to try making their own (and probably wouldn’t get served trying to buy spirits). Again the confectionary taste and low ABV don’t really have much in common with a real mojito.

Strawberry Daiquiri
Apparently “adulterating” the traditional rum, lime and sugar of a Daiquiri with strawberry liqueur and fresh strawberries, this one also won a silver medal, at ISWC 2012. It has a thick consistency and vivid red colour, and smells of strawberry ice cream, rather than strawberries. Very sweet, with a concentrated synthetic strawberry taste. They do suggest it be served long with crushed ice, and it does taste like a concentrate—as Paul says, a Slushpuppy concentrate. For me this is the worst of the lot, I’m afraid. It’s an odd choice for a cocktail—hardly a classic. I assume that their decisions were based on trying to use certain artificial fruit flavours, even though the suggestion is that fresh strawberries went into it. Rachel pronounced it too sweet, but Alan revealed that he rather liked this one. (Mind you he is someone who sometimes eats jam for breakfast, straight from the jar with a spoon, and declared on this occasion that his latest discovery was jelly Haribo wrapped in slices of processed cheese.)

With lots of ice and some extra spirit, the first two might be workable, but then if you’re going to buy vodka or rum to spike it anyway, why not just make the cocktail? Of if that really is too much bother, just drink the vodka or rum—if you know where to look you can buy something four times as strong for the same money. Now that’s got to be a bargain, eh, kids?

* Mojito, Cosmopolitan, Long Island Ice Tea, Caipirinha, Sea Breeze, Piña Colada, Strawberry Daiquiri, Margarita, Sex on the Beach and Mai Tai.
** Apparently they use “double gold winning Akademicka Vodka”.

Thursday 13 September 2012

Plain Cocktails from the Raj

A Tiffin Spice cocktail, made with homemade saffron vodka
It was more a play on words that prompted us to give our mid-September Candlelight Club party the theme “Indian Summer” (last weekend looked very promising, though this coming Friday and Saturday look more ho-hum for the event itself). But it did give me an opportunity to play around with flavours that might suggest the exotic glories of the Raj.

I knew tea was going to come into it somewhere, and it also gave me a chance to try using a bottle of Briottet bergamot liqueur that I bought out of curiosity and hadn’t found a use for yet. A bergamot is a citrus fruit, the fragrant rinds of which are used to flavour Earl Grey. So I ended up with this:

Bombay Tea Party
2 shots whiskey
1 shot bergamot liqueur
1 shot cold Earl Grey tea
½ shot lemon juice
Top with ginger ale
Garnish: Lemon slice
Shake first 4 ingredients with ice and strain into an ice-filled highball. Top with a splash of ginger ale and give a gentle stir. Add lemon garnish

Using tea in cocktails has been in vogue for a while, but it really does make an interesting ingredient, with the unexpected dryness of the tannins a useful foil to any cloying tendency of sweeter ingredients. Here the aromatic citrus of the bergamot comes from both the liqueur and the tea, with warmth from both the ginger and the whisky. I don’t know why I decided to use this as a spirit base—possibly because I wanted something British, but in fact I ended up using Irish whiskey rather than Scotch, as I find its more neutral character sits more easily in mixed drinks. Overall this is restrained but flavoursome, with the sweetness from the liqueur balanced by tart lemon and dry tea, and the ginger giving it an invigorating zing, so that it’s all dangerously refreshing too.

Another tea idea I had was to use masala chai, a tea flavoured with cinnamon, ginger and other spices, very popular all over india. My brother-in-law had brought me some back some from his travels, so I decided to make it into a syrup and fashion some sort of “Chai Tea-ni”. The result is simply a dry Martini with a dose of the syrup and then an equal dose of lemon juice to balance up the sweet and sour. There is more vermouth in it than many people would put in a regular Martini, but it needed to make its presence felt against the bold flavours:

2 shots gin
1 shot dry vermouth
1 shot masala chai syrup
1 shot lemon juice
Garnish: lemon zest
Shake everything with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a strip of lemon peel.

The syrup is made simply by combining two parts (by volume) granulated sugar with one part masala chai tea. As is often the case with tea in cocktails, you need to make it pretty strong for it to hold its own among the other flavours. The resulting cocktail is surprisingly well balanced, with all the elements coming through, and those who normally find dry Martinis a bit too dry will appreciate the warm, faintly gingerbready, spice in this version.

A lot of spices are really a bit too savoury to sit easily in a cocktail, such as cumin, turmeric or (in my opinion) chilli. But I couldn’t resist trying to make some saffron vodka, if only for the colour. I simply added about half a gram of saffron to a full bottle of Green Mark; the resulting colour change was pretty much instant and it was fun to watch the swirls of deep, pure orange spreading out. This makes a fairly powerfully flavoured infusion, with the dry, woody, slightly bitter aroma of saffron very much in your face. If you were making a sipping version you would want to use less. But I needed something that would keep it’s character at the forefront once the other ingredients had gone in. (I did try a whole gram, but even mixed in the cocktail it was actually too overpowering.)

Saffron is considered to go well with orange, rose, cardamom and almond among other things. I managed to get the first three of those in to the resulting recipe. (I tried the same thing also with orgeat almond syrup instead of the rose, and it works too, but in the end I felt that the rose was preferable for having a lighter touch; if you like confectionary flavours you might prefer the almond.)

Tiffin Spice
2 shots saffron vodka
¾ shot rose syrup (I used Monin’s)
½ shot Cointreau
½ lemon juice
Few drops Master of Malt cardamom bitters
Soda water top
Shake first 4 ingredients and strain into an ice-filled highball. Top with soda water, give a gentle stir then add a few drops of cardamom bitters on top.

Saffron infusing in a bottle of Green Mark. Pretty, isn't it?
The MoM cardamon bitters are part of a wide range of such tinctures using different spices, plus chocolate and the dreaded super-hot naga chilli. One could probably make one’s own but cardamom pods are quite a faff to open. Even this commercial product is quite delicate, which is why I elected to add it to the top, to ensure that the drinker gets at least one good whiff of it before it dissipates into the mix. I tried to keep all the ingredients colourless and clear, to show off the saffron colour, and, with the exception of the lemon juice, I succeeded.

The Colonial cocktail I chose just because of the name, and to have at least one on the menu that dated from the period. However, it seems fairly unavoidable that the name actually came from Manhattan’s Colony (you also find it billed as a Colony cocktail), a high-end Prohibition-era speakeasy, rather than an actual colony. Like many classic cocktails, its proportions are skewed towards hard liquor primped with a dash of this or that, and I’ve put more grapefruit juice and maraschino than in the original—both to make it more palatable to a broad range of tastes, and to make it a bit less alcoholic. To the same end I added a little elderflower cordial, partly to soften with a non-alcoholic ingredient, partly to offset the bitterness of the grapefruit, and partly because I know that elderflower and grapefruit go together particularly well.

2 shots gin
2 shots grapefruit juice
½ shot maraschino
½ shot elderflower cordial
Garnish: maraschino cherry
Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

Finally, I was reminded of a recipe that Will Sprunt came up with last year for our English Country Garden event—based on the tenuous premise that some of the world’s finest mangoes are grown in Kent, “The Garden of England”. I’m sure he knows what he is talking about, but I felt that mango sat much more happily in this party’s Indian context.

The precise proportions vary depending on the mango juice you use. Rubicon make one that they sell in Sainsbury’s; it has a good, clearly recognisable mango smell and taste (possibly achieved artificially) but it is only 19% mango pulp, so it doesn’t really have the texture you expect. Sainsbury also do their own, which is 40% pulp and has a good texture but smells and tastes of nothing aside from a little stale caramel. Funkin do a purée that you can taste is clearly made from mangoes, with a good thick consistency, though the flavour is a little subdued. (Funkin purées do often have a sort of “cooked” flavour to them, presumably because they pasteurise it after it is sealed in its foil pouch.) In the end I used a 50:50 blend of Funkin and Rubicon.

Calcutta Cup
2 shots gin
2 shots mango juice
Heaped tablespoon of yoghurt
½ shot syrup
½ shot lemon
Sprig of mint leaves
Dash of angostura bitters
Garnish: mint leaves
Shake all together vigorously and strain into an ice-filled highball. Garnish with a mint sprig.

Early on, while attempting to make a richer consistency than the Rubicon produced on its own, I hit upon the idea of adding yoghurt, to make it reminiscent of the Indian yoghurt drink lassi, which is also sometimes flavoured with mango. Incidentally, there is no need to muddle the mint—if you give it a good, hard shake the ice should do enough muddling. I did think of making a mint syrup, or even using crème de menthe, but I realised that anything green blended with the orange colour of the mango would result in a sludge-brown colour. Using fresh mint doesn’t blend the colours, just leaves small pieces of mint floating around, which makes for a pretty effect.

Tuesday 4 September 2012

Curiosity Cabinet #11 - Tiramisu Liqueur

There are plenty of Italian liqueurs available, from from the nuts and bean of Amaretto or coffee liqueurs to the fruit notes of Maraschino and Limoncello, and more besides. This being the Curiosity Cabinet, however, no normal cherry or almond fare would do and so instead we shall focus on a slightly more unusual example: Tiramisu Liqueur.

Tiramisu is an Italian dessert consisting of coffee and alcohol-soaked sponge fingers that are topped with egg white, mascarpone and cocoa. I had expected this to be an ancient Italian treat, but, although accounts vary, most place it as having between been created 30–40 years ago.

The Tiramisu Liqueur is made in Verona, Italy by G.M. Sommacampagna (VR) Italy and combines the flavours of almonds, cocoa, coffee and various herbs and spices. It is bottled at 24% ABV.

On its own
Nose: Coffee with hints of brandy and vanilla.
Taste: Quite smooth to start, followed by notes of coffee, cream and vanilla; this reminds me of the liquid that Tiramisu sponge is typically soaked in. There are also some chocolatey notes toward the end, making this very much a dessert liqueur that tastes a good deal like Tiramisu.

Floating Tiramisu
[50ml Tiramisu Liqueur, 1tbsp Ice-cream, Top up with soda]
This drink reminds me of a cross between a coffee float and a chocolate soda: it’s very frothy and a bit like an adult milkshake. Good flavour of tiramisu on the finish.

White Italian
[20ml Vodka, 20ml Tiramisu Liqueur, 20ml Semi-skimmed milk]
This is very nice. What can I say? The extra milk transforms this drink into a liquid Tiramisu cake/dessert. The vodka adds some strength, but also reduces the sweetness nicely, making an all-round rather lovely drink: chocolate, coffee and vanilla. Yum!

In Conclusion
The Tiramisu Liqueur is well made, very tasty and I think has applications for both sweet cocktails and puddings (drizzle over ice-cream, etc.). I would also be interested to try it as part of an actual Tiramisu - I suspect that it would either be magnificent or only so-so.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Pastis Portfolio Vol:1 - Lidanis

One of the most interesting questions that I have ever heard asked at a drinks’ industry question and answer session was: “What is your second favourite drink?”. The question was asked of Mr. Martin Miller, founder of Miller’s Gin, and his answer was, “Probably pastis.”.

I, obviously, drink a lot of gin and I’m also partial to a Horse’s Neck cocktail, but
, like Mr Miller, my own second favourite spirit to drink recreationally is probably pastis. I (DBS) am actually known to prefer absinthes that are closer to Pastis in character, which is interesting as pastis or anise was first created as a replacement for absinthe after it had been unfairly banned.

Inspired by the range of Pastis available in France, I gathered an armful of bottles, and decided to set about reviewing some of the big, and not so big, brands of this anise-flavoured beverage.


The first pastis in the Portfolio will be an unusual choice: LIDANIS. As far as I am aware, this is Lidl’s own-brand of pastis (hence LID-ANIS). Available by the litre, it, like most pastis, is bottled at 45% ABV.

With water
Cool and pleasant, with a good burst of anise. Quite sweet and very two-dimensional, but good, clean, cheap and satisfying. Easy to drink and, after one glass, you are left wanting another. A touch of creaminess on the finish.

With ice
Quite strong, grainy alcohol and a fair bit of burn, then some anise, but not a patch on having it with water; it needs a lot more ice-melt and dilution for it to become more palatable. With further dilution, some bitter anise comes through.

In Conclusion
Whilst this pastis isn’t the best out there, it is still pretty good and, at €8 a bottle, in terms of value for money, it’s hard to beat.

You Old Rascal!

I’ve spent quite a lot of time looking at wildly flavoured ciders, or beer producers entering the cider foray with silly names and pretentious marketing campaigns. Today, however, the cider that I’ll be featuring has its feet more firmly on the ground. It comes from that old English favourite, Thatchers of Somerset. Personally, I always think a little more of a public house if their fizzy draught cider is Thatchers Gold rather than Strongbow or Blackthorn, but then that’s just my preference.

Legend has it that every night, under the cover of darkness, a wily old fox crept out of his den at the bottom of our orchard, and tiptoed his way to the cider store to help himself to fresh supplies. No matter how hard we tried, we just couldn’t keep the fox away from his favourite tipple. You’d regularly hear the cry, “The old rascal’s been at it again!”—and so the name ‘Old Rascal’ was born.

Described as medium-dry, Thatchers Old Rascal is bottled at 4.5% ABV.

Colour: Honey-amber.
Nose: Quite a strong nose that simply bursts out of the bottle: dry apples and a slight leafiness.
Taste: A medium-level of fizz with quite small bubbles. Initially, it’s dry and then the sweetness pops up, followed by long dry, slightly bitter finish.
With ice: The balance seems a bit off when served with ice and, rather than adding anything, I think that it disrupts the underlying flavour of the cider—definitely best to just have it well-chilled.