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.

Thursday 23 August 2012

Curiosity Cabinet #10 - Banana Malibu

Every now and then, I like to mooch over to France with Mrs. B, J-Money and The Bear; we have a day trip and keep our eyes peeled for alcoholic curiosities. It is from such a trip that we have discovered the delights of drinks like Pisang Ambon Mint.

On our latest trip, we acquired some Malibu Banana. I have tried to find out a bit more about this product, but the Malibu Website is pretty useless. I can’t even determine whether this is coconut Malibu with banana, or just Malibu rum flavour with banana (and not coconut). After tasting, it it seems to be the former.

It’s worth noting that Malibu also make a range of other flavours, including Mango, Sunshine (coconut and citrus), Island Melon (melon and coconut), Pineapple and Passionfruit, as well as “Winter”, which is normal Malibu with added coconut flakes (to look like snow/dandruff). They also produce Malibu Red*: a mix of Malibu Coconut Rum and Silver Tequila.

But what was their banana variety like?

On its own
Nose: Banana creams with a hint of coconut.
Taste: Rather milky and creamy, with banana and then some coconut (the coconut is mostly on the finish and not that powerful). Overall, sugary sweet and quite smooth.

Banana Tonic
This somewhat unlikely combination is suggested on the bottle. It’s a very odd drink: it is quite refreshing, but way, way too sweet and cream and tonic is a very peculiar mix. Not recommended.

This is a variation on the Alexander (okay, maybe it’s just “inspired by”). It tastes of chocolate, bananas and cream, whilst the vodka adds strength and balance. The coconut flavour is almost gone. Very tasty.


Can you think of any good celebrity-booze tie ups?

* This is in collaboration with Grammy Award Winning Singer, songwriter and "actor", Ne-Yo (no idea) it’s no Cleos Rocos Tequila.

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Pash-ion for Vodka #19 - Iceberg Vodka

Iceberg vodka is Canadian spirit and was released in September 1995  by the  Canadian Iceberg Vodka Corporation. As with all vodkas Iceberg has a USP and its particular difference is the water source it use. The liquid in question comes from Iceberg where it has been trapped for 12,000 years. This ice is harvested from the death flows* off of Newfoundland.

Iceberg vodka is manufactured by Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation using Ontario sweet corn and is bottled at 40%ABV.

On its own
Nose: A light creaminess, but very minimal.
Taste: Exceptionally smooth, with a superb texture, even at room temperature. A slight sweetness to start, but generally very smooth, clean and pure to taste.

Cool, crisp and slightly viscous. There are hints of vanilla and strawberry. Although very faint, there’s a pleasant tingle of warmth at the end. Again, very clean and pure, and particularly easy to sip.

This had more texture than I would have anticipated, whilst still being crisp, clean and smooth. There are sweet hints of cream on the finish and the taste of sweet anise, too. Very good!

In Conclusion
A very smooth and creamy vodka particularly suited for desert cocktails.

*Death flows are where small piece of ice break off from the main berg from here all they can do is melt into the sea. So scooping these pieces up before they melt,a t the very least, stops the fresh water from reducing the sea salinity. So iceberg harvesting is not as environmentally friendly as it would first appear.

Thursday 16 August 2012

Gin & Tonic—Hold The Ice?

When chatting to the Canadian founder of Iceberg Gin (and vodka) he explained that the key to spirits was the purity of the water source (in his case Death Flow Icebergs)—which made me question that, given the purity of the gin, if you use plain ice with your drink you will start to undo the benefit of the pure water.

He had an answer for this quandary (or rather his wife did), and that was to keep the gin, and glass in the freezer and the lemon and tonic water really well chilled. I actually go as far as to leave the tonic in the freezer for 10 minutes* before serving.

When you want your drink you simply pour the chilled ingredients into the chilled glass and forego the ice.

Delicious, I am fast becoming a convert to keeping gin and tonic glasses in the freezer. Perfectly chilled drink whose cooling effects continue even after you have swallowed the liquid. The slightly fruity Larry's gin put a new spin on this classic drink, but it is still crisp and dry and obviously a gin & tonic.

On such a hot day it is a welcome refreshment.

*Any longer than ten minutes and you risk an exploding bottle or burst can and a real mess in your freezer, so get an adult to help you.

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Ch, ch, ch, ch, changes… The difference between Deaths Door's vodka in 2009 and 2011 '

Few spirits have split opinion here at The Institute as Death Door's Gin, I'm a quite a big fan, but Mr Hartley less so.

What was the source of this disagreement? I think the fennel was a huge part of it, not that Mr. H is opposed the the flavour it's just that he thinks that the first flavour of gin should really be juniper and in the 2009 Death's Door you just couldn't get away from the fennel. I like the flavour and found the spirit to be smooth and sweet with some juniper, albeit in the background.

So imagine my bemusment when, recently I have seen more and more people refer to Death's Door as a rather "classic gin" and a when well-known publications blind tasting notes failed to recognise fennel (one of the three botanicals in the gin).

The mystery started to unravel when I was kindly sent a bottle of the '11 Vintage for the UK's first ever American Gin Summit. Tasting it neat it did seem more like a traditional Classic style of gin and when I compared it to the '09 vintage the diference was night and day.

To illustrate the differences I decide to try both gins in three drinks.


09 Smooth, sweet with some citrus followed by powerful fennel with a touch of juniper. Almost liqueur like.

11 Well-rounded and balanced; juniper up front then spicy coriander and fennel, not as sweet.


09 Heavy fennel, dominates the drink, rich, herbal and fairly sweet.

11 Better balance, juniper with fennel; citrus spice of coriander. Classic with a twist.


09 Quite sweet with a good dose of fennel, rather herbal and minimal juniper. Once again liqueur-like.

11 More classic, higher dose of juniper, then some spicy coriander and a fennel finish.


There certainly is a difference and it seems that the '09 is sweeter (thus smoother) with more herbal notes, plenty of fennel and less juniper than the '11.

That said, most products experience a little tinkering (the source of juniper is the most likely answer) when they start up and now that Death's Door has fixed on their recipe the flavour from '11 is what you can expect the in future.

Thursday 9 August 2012

Tonic Ice and the Gin that's only sold in one shop in THE WORLD!

Today I'm going to write about a special gin, one that is only available from one shop in the whole world, Taurus Gin. The shop itself is located just south of Guildford in the village of Bramley and it has its own gin to compete with the likes of the big boys to make a thrifty but tasty G&T.

To test it out I am actually going to try another experiment at the same time—to use a G'Vine iceball made of tonic water (I got the idea from YetAnotherGin). I may kill two birds with one stone!

Taurus Gin is a simple, clean gin with a good dose of slightly bitter juniper. It is a classic gin and it's perfect partner would have to be tonic.

The nice thing about the tonic ice is that the bitter aspects of the tonic come out first and the flavour profile of the drink changes as the ice melts; it starts off rather herbal and a bit floral.

What is really interesting is that the ice ball is hollow! (I discovered this when I hit it with a small Hendrick's croquet mallet/stirrer.) This gave me the idea of having the gin contained within the ice ball: I did try this but the ice ball had two holes so the gin just came out of the bottom. The idea's got potential, though.

Here are some more tasting notes for Taurus Gin:

On it's Own
nose: juniper and grainy nose with a hint of floral vanilla
taste: a very fresh and juicy gin, luscious with succulent juniper and zesty citrus and a slightly sweet finish

Gin & Tonic
I used Fentiman's Tonic for this drink. Taurus makes a really sound gin and tonic and the extra citrus from the Fentimans makes it even more refreshing. Quite excellent.

A crisp Martini, citrus with a touch of bitter spice. Decent strength, good flavour.

In Conclusion
I think Taurus is a good gin at a very reasonable price point (£12.99 a bottle)—overall very good value for money. Every drink I tried it in was of solid quality and should satisfy even the most ardent gin fan.

Tuesday 7 August 2012

Pash-ion for Vodka #18 Legend of the Kremlin

The “legend” of the Kremlin is that in the first half of the 15th century (1400–1450 AD) there was a monk, whose name was Isidore and he created the first Russian vodka within the walls of the Chudov monastery in Moscow, which is where the Kremlin stands today.

The website then states:

His recipe of grain vodka was magnificent! In acknowledgement of the historical fact the International arbitration made a decision in 1982 to call vodka "an original Russian alcoholic drink".

This suggests that International arbitration (whoever they are) finally put paid to the Russia vs. Poland “who invented vodka?” debate 30 years ago. This is simply not the case.*

However Legend of Kremlin is the vodka supplied to the Moscow Kremlin, Council of Federation of Russia, Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, the Arbitration Court** and the Academy of State Service of Russia.

The producers also make a Standard Kremlin for mixing and two more premium versions, Kremlevka and the even more luxurious Kremlevka Elit.

Nose: Very clean nose, a hint of grain alcohol but that's it.
Taste: Very soft on the palette initially with a little sweetness from the grain, some residual warmth in your throat after drinking which is not unpleasant. Tongue tingle on the finish.

Superb, clean and pure with a tiny touch of vanilla spice. Very warming but there isn't really any burn. A strong vodka and enjoyable to drink.

Very clean and very, very crisp. Minimal burn and a touch of flavour at the end. Warms the stomach.

In Conclusion
Whatever the story behind the vodka, the spirit itself is superb and I'd happily add my name to a list of those they can supply.

Legend of the Kremlin is available for around £31 for 70cl from The Whisky Exchange.

* Personally I don’t mind who invented it—that in itself would not make one better than the other.
** I guess a different one from before but I’m not sure how vodka is going to help two parties settle a dispute.

Thursday 2 August 2012

A tasting of a trio of Magners Specials

As is apparent from the plethora of new products I have been reviewing recently, the popularity of cider continues to climb, But, once you’ve made an apple cider and expanded your range to include pear and berry varieties, where can you go from there?

Well, Magners seem to have found a solution with their range of “luxury” ciders, each of which combines an extra flavour with something more traditional. In doing this, the boffins at Magners have come up with some imaginative flavours, namely:

1) Pear & Ginger
2) Spiced Apple & Honey
3) Spiced Apple & Rhubarb

Each of these is served in 500ml (slightly smaller than the usual 568ml) bottles with an ABV of 4%. They are available in both pubs and supermarkets. So how did they taste?

1) Pear & Ginger
A very light yellow/green in colour, with a nose of gentle ginger and sweet pear. In terms of taste, I thought it was quite dry and slightly fruity, with ginger on the finish, but the ginger note isn’t particularly fiery. It is rather cooling, but it really needs twice as much flavour as it has.

2) Spiced Apple & Honey
Dark yellow in colour, with only a minimal hint of apple on the nose. Taste-wise, the drink is festive and rather wintery, with the cinnamon and nutmeg spiced apple and a touch of honey being easily distinguishable. Pretty good, this is even better over ice.

3) Spiced Apple & Rhubarb
Rose pink in colour, with nose of light rhubarb. To taste, there are notes of dry rhubarb with a touch of sweetness and the flavour of fresh, crisp apple. Quite refreshing. I thought this was the best of the range. There are hints of cloves and cinnamon on the finish.