Cocktails with… Beckett’s London Dry Gin

Juniper is the key ingredient of gin and during the early boom of London distilling, juniper came from the countryside surrounding the capital. After the outbreak of the Second World War, these berries were cleared to make way for agriculture and food production. Until recently, therefore, most, if not all, juniper came from Italy and the countries around the Adriatic Sea.

Becketts Gin uses hand-picked juniper berries from Box Hill in Surrey. These are still Juniperus Communis, but vary in size and oil content to Tuscan juniper because of the colder, wetter climate in which they are grown. The gin also uses fresh riverside mint from Kingston-upon-Thames. Another four botanicals complete the recipe: coriander, sweet orange peel, orris root, and lime.

Becketts Gin FINAL

On its own
Nose: Bright juniper, piney and green, with a dry, resinous quality. There are also some leafy herbal notes and a touch of peppery citrus.
Taste: A good, well-integrated spirit with a smooth texture and plenty of juniper notes upfront, followed by luscious, fresh mint and then some dry citrus and vanilla.

Gin & Tonic
The juniper shines through in this drink and even stands up to the sweeter tonic waters. It produces a smooth and refreshing drink with citrus and mellow herbal notes, and just a hint of chocolate, before a dry, bitter finish.

Martini
Another textbook drink. Lovely juniper notes alongside dry angelica and crisp, slightly creamy vanilla and a notable leafiness. The finish is smooth, clean, and long.

Negroni
A textbook Negroni: totally classic, with a bold, punchy juniper flavour, deeper herbal notes, citrus, and – again – a hint of chocolate before a dry, bitter finish.

In Conclusion
Beckett’s Gin is a great example of a classic gin and still shows that there is room for innovation in the gin category whilst staying faithful to traditional flavour profiles. The works that Beckett’s do to support British Juniper is commendable and my favourite drink was the Gin & Tonic.

Cocktails with… Dà Mhìle’s Seaweed Farmhouse Botanical Gin

Today is Trafalgar Day and, as such, I thought it was fitting to feature a somewhat nautical gin; namely, Dà Mhìle’s Organic Seaweed Farmhouse Botanical Gin. This gin uses a cut down variation of the botanicals in their Original Gin and, after distillation, it is infused with seaweed from the Newquay coast, before being triple filtered.

Da Mhile Seaweed Gin Final Shell

Da Mhile Gin with the serving suggestion of sipping it from an oyster shell

On its own
Nose: Complex and intriguing, with floral hints of rose, as well as citrus, coriander, some dry juniper and pine notes, and salty leafy notes.
Taste: A very strong flavour, with the same note that are found on the nose. This is a mostly smooth spirit, with just a touch of warmth at the end. The bold flavours of the gin should make it a great candidate for mixed drinks. There is some pleasant spice elements on the finish.

Gin & Tonic
A very powerful drink. Notes of resinous pine and juniper, citrusy coriander, and some herbal notes towards the end, plus a hint of chocolate. Plenty of flavour and rather cooling.

Martini
Bright and powerful, with a great juniper hit, as well as some complex, leafy, slightly salty, green notes.

Negroni
A smooth and complex Negroni; again, the floral and salty green notes of the gin come through well and add character. This would be a good choice for those who like a Negroni with plenty of flavour.

Da Mhile Seaweed Gin Final Fish

A glass of chilled Seaweed Gin as a fine accompaniment to seafood.

Gimlet
Excellent and a great choice for Trafalgar Day. The tart lime works well with the green leafy notes of the gin and its fresh, slightly salty element.

In Conclusion
Dà Mhìle Seaweed Gin is a bold and flavoursome spirit that, as it was designed to do, goes well with seafood. My favourite drink was the Gimlet.

Cocktails with… Bombay Sapphire Distillery Laverstoke Mill Edition

I was recently at the grand opening of the Bombay Sapphire Distillery in Laverstoke Mill, coverage of which can be found here. As a parting gift, each attendee was given a bottle of Bombay Sapphire Distillery Laverstoke Mill Exclusive Edition. This is packaged in a bottle inspired by the distillery’s intertwining glasshouses and, like those glasshouses, was designed by Heatherwick Studios. This bottling is additionally noticeable as glass stopper replaces the usual screw cap.

Bombay Sapphire Laverstoke Mill Edition

As if that wasn’t enough, the liquid inside, whilst containing the same classic ten Bombay Sapphire botanicals, is bottled at 49.0% ABV, compared with the usual domestic versions, which are bottled at 40.0% ABV for the UK and 47.0% ABV for the USA.

On its own
Nose: Dry juniper, coriander, and light pepper spice. Less citrus and nuttiness than the 40% ABV.
Taste: Lots more of the woody spice notes come through, such as orris and liquorice, which add a very subtle sweetness. The citrus notes are less forward. Despite the extra ABV, the liquid is smooth in texture and viscous, with a full mouthfeel.

Gin & Tonic
Delicious. A lot of the citrus of the gin comes through, which is more subtle when it is tasted neat. There is also a lovely juiciness, even without a garnish, which complements the complex herbal and woody notes. Clean and refreshing.

Martini
Bombay Sapphire was the gin that switched me from vodka to gin martinis, back in the Blue Room at Vinopolis, so it was great to have a new edition from this new home. The higher ABV gives the drink the clean and piercing power that I expect from the very best martinis.

Negroni
A symphonic harmony between the flavours of the gin and the other ingredients. The botanical flavours shine through well, with particularly intriguing notes of spice and pepper on the finish.

In Conclusion
Whilst the stunning bottle and packaging would be reason enough to want this bottle on your shelf, I was also impressed by the liquid inside: the spirit is more complex, dry and less citrusy than the standard UK domestic expression. My favourite drink was the Martini.

Bombay Sapphire Distillery Launch – Laverstoke Mill

Yesterday saw the grand opening of the Bombay Sapphire Distillery at Laverstoke Mill in Hampshire. Since the creation of Bombay Dry in 1960, Bombay Sapphire in 1987, and Bombay Sapphire East in 2011, the gins have lacked a home base that would allow people, both trade and public, to visit.

Across the world, there has been a rise in “Destination Distilling”; that is, the idea of a distillery being something more than a production facility, becoming an attraction for tourists to visit.

Plymouth Gin has been open for the public to tour since 1985 and has had it’s present visitors centre since 2007, Beefeater opened their centre earlier this year, and income from visitors is now an integral part of the business plan for most new distilleries.

Bombay Sapphire’s new home for their distillery and visitors centre is in North Hampshire and has come after years of works and million of pounds of investment.

The Glasshouses (Mediterranean and Tropical) growing specimens of all of the botanicals in Bombay Sapphire. They are heat from the excess heat from the stills.

The Glasshouses (Mediterranean and Tropical) growing specimens of all of the botanicals in Bombay Sapphire. They are heat from the excess heat from the stills.

Laverstoke Mill operated as a paper mill from 1719 to 1963. From 1725, it held the sole contract for the production of the Bank of England’s banknote paper, at one time providing the paper for over 100 countries and colonies in the British Empire. In the second half of the 20th Century, however, the mill closed and fell into disrepair, until it was discovered as a potential location for a new distillery.

The new Bombay Sapphire Distillery had its grand opening on 17th September 2014 and I was lucky enough to be able to attend.

Distillery and Glasshouse

The Distillery in the background, toprical glasshouse to the right and designer Thomas Heatherwick in the foreground

As we arrived, the most striking feature was the glistening River Test, which runs through the site, surrounded on both sides by centuries-old mill buildings, all newly refurbished.

After some welcome drinks, including the delicious “Laverstoke”, including the non-alcoholic one that I picked up by accident, I was whisked upstairs to have a chat with Valarie Brass Global Brand Director for Gin at Bacardi Global Brands. This was a great chance to discuss some of the bigger picture aspects of Bombay Sapphire and the key focuses of Bombay Sapphire: “Creativity”, “Beauty” and “Expression”. There was obvious excitement about have a place to “bring to life key principles” and to “talk about what we believe in” something that I can imagine was quite difficult before such a large and growing brand had a dedicated base.

Mediterrean Glasshouse

An Orange Tree Inside the Mediterranean Glasshouse

The highlight of the evening was the unveiling of the two glasshouses: one tropical, and one mediterranean in climate. These were designed by Heatherwick Studios and are heated by the residual heat from the stills. Even though I had seen designs and 3D models of them, I nonetheless wasn’t quite prepared for how spectacular they were. The chance to see so many classic gin botanicals all growing together was fascinating.

The "secret bar" which will be Sam Carter's new "office" about 10 minutes after this picture was taken it was packed wall to wall.

The “secret bar” which will be Sam Carter’s (at the bar) new “office” about 10 minutes after this picture was taken it was packed wall to wall.

After this excitement I decided to slip off to the “secret bar” (Empire Bar) which was being tended by the distillery’s in-house senior brand ambassador Sam Carter. This bar doubles as a training facility for a variety of guests, trade and bartenders. Up here I had a mix of Bombay Sapphire, Pink Grapefruit Juice and Vanilla Syrup – the grapefruit and vanilla producing a chocolate flavour in addition to their own character – a phenomenon known as “Transmogrification” – something I consider a Sam Carter signature.

After that joint started jumping (see picture) I went in search of further adventure and found another bar inside one of the old vaults where the finished banknote were kept. This came complete with the original cast iron grate door at the entry. Here I was treated to an Aviation cocktail and a pleasant chat with gin experts Geraldine Coates and Patience Gould where we also had a sneaky sip of Bombay Dry at the new ABV.

Bombay Sapphire Laverstoke Mill Edition

No Bombay Sapphire event would be complete without one of their glamorous gift bags, and this event did not disappoint. In addition to some fine barware we got a bottle of the rare Laverstoke Mill Edition of Bombay Sapphire – beautifully packaged but for me, even more excitingly, bottled at an unusual 49%ABV. See here for tasting notes.

All-in-all I had high hopes for the distillery and my expectations were exceeded; an opening on this scale will never happen again and so it was great to be part of it. The distillery itself opens to the public in October and for me it is a must for gin fans and a great visit for anyone who is a fan of botany, stunning scenery or historic architecture.

For more details check out their website. Later this year National Geographic will be screening a documnetary about the creation of the distillery.

Bombay Sapphire Family

A New Home for the Family.

Cocktails with… Sipsmith Sipping Vodka

When I first went to the Sipsmith Distillery (October 2010), they had released two products: a gin and a vodka. Their gin has gone from strength-to-strength and is now available in the USA. Back then, the vodka was barley-based, like their gin, and had an indulgent flavour of cream and vanilla.

Fast forward to 2014, and Sipsmith have just released a wheat-based “Sipping Vodka”. This comes at a time when more spirits are being marketed, at least in part, as being just as tasty on their own as when mixed.

As such, I tried the vodka neat at a variety of temperatures.

Sipsmith Sipping Vodka

On its own
At room temperature
Nose: Light and clean, with some light spice and a hint of vanilla, as well as toasted cereal.
Taste: A rich and viscous texture, this is a clean spirit with notable character from the base. There are also notes of spice, including anise and fennel, before a little warmth on the finish.

From the fridge
At a lower temperature, the spirit changes flavour with richer, slightly jammy, fruity notes, as well as an increase in warmth and spice, too.

From the freezer
Drinking straight from the freezer produces a very pure and clean flavour, as if it were from a crystal-clear shard of ice. This is a pleasant way to enjoy the spirit, with a great texture and a light character.

With ice
Thick in texture and pure in taste, although, as a result, some of the flavour is slightly curbed, replated with a little more creaminess comes through. Very, very clean – almost water-like.

Martini
Superb – truly textbook: clean, crisp, and smooth with residual character. This is equally good with a lemon twist or an olive, although my preference would be for the former.

Vodka & Tonic
This is a great drink with a lovely crispness and power from the alcohol, whilst still being easy to sip for simple refreshment.

In Conclusion

Whilst, as I mentioned I was a fan of old Sipsmith’s Barley Vodka, I think the Sipping Vodka is a great addition to the range and it more complex and sippable (funny that) than many other vodkas. Sipsmith Sipping Vodka reaches the pleasant balance between smoothness and drinkability and character. I liked it chilled and neat but was also very impressed with the vodka tonic.

 

Sipsmith Sipping Vodka (40.0%ABV) is available for around £29 for 70cl from The Whisky Exchange.

Cocktails for dinner with Zubrowka Polish Vodka

I was recently approached by Match.com to come up with some Polish-inspired cocktails for their website. Now, one of my favourite Polish spirits is the bison-grass flavoured vodka, Zubrowka, which is quite widely available and accessible, even to the newest vodka drinker. I decided to use Zubrowka as the basis for a series of cocktails that can accompany different stages of a romantic meal, which can be found below.

~Aperitif~

Zubrowka AperitifBison Fizz

[20ml Zubrowka, 80ml of Dry Prosecco - Add vodka to a flute glass and top up with Prosecco]

This is a drink that makes a great first impression: there’s bright apple pie to start, with a mix of dry and sweet flavours, before it subtly develops to focus on the flavours of the wine. The dryness of the prosecco makes it raising to the appetite, so it is a good choice as an aperitif. This accessible drink is great for a special occasion.

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~Main meal~

Zubrowka Main CourseZubrowka Soda

[25ml Zubrowka, 50ml Apple Juice, 50ml Soda Water - Build in a tall glass with ice and garnish with a lemon wedge]

A very simple drink with an ABV of around 8% ABV, putting it on a par with many wines. This is a light and refreshing cocktail with hints of confectionery apple crumble and a touch of caramel. It’s a pleasant drink and makes a good accompaniment to a main course.

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~Dessert~

Zubrowka DessertAlexsy

[30ml Zubrowka, 50ml Single Cream, 1 tsp Chocolate Syrup - Shake]

A variation on the Alexander cocktail, this is a very indulgent, dessert-like drink. There are some light spice and dry fruit notes coming from the vodka, which mix well with the cream and chocolate flavours. All-in-all, this is somewhat reminiscent of an alcoholic chocolate milkshake.

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~After Dinner~

Apple-Honey Punch

[30ml Zubrowka Vodka, 1 tsp honey (I used the new apple-flavoured variety from Rowse), 100ml warm apple juice]

Method: Add vodka and honey to a heat-proof glass. Warm apple juice in the microwave (around 60 seconds on high). Add apple juice to other ingredients and stir until the honey has dissolved.

This is a warming honey and apple drink with lots of spice from the vodka and a tart, apple fruitiness from the juice that is countered by the sweetness of the honey. A well-balanced, warming, and tasty drink.

Zubrowka After Dinner

Zubrowka Liqueur

An alternative to this drink is the Zubrowka Polona liqueur. This is a blend of vodka and herbs which is then sweetened and aged in oak casks. Whilst this isn’t the easiest product to find in the UK, I have seen it available in various Polish food stores (which is where I got mine from). It is a rich and intense liqueur with notable flavours of almond, honey, and maple, as well as cherry and apricot stone fruit. Finally, there’s a hint of freshly-brewed tea and some woody oak.

Köld Cocktails

When it comes to home cocktail mixing, simplicity is key and if there are too many ingredients (particularly obscure ones) in a drink, then people simply won’t make it. So forget the Yuzu liqueur and the Lavender & Earl Grey syrup and let’s focus on the other end of the scale: pre-batched or bottled cocktails.

I say bottled cocktails, but in this case I am really talking about cocktails that come in a pouch:

Kold Cocktails Selection
Köld cocktails are designed to be frozen before consumption and, after a short thaw, served in a glass as an alcoholic slush. Alcoholic “slush puppies” have been around for a while and I have reviewed some before; whilst tasty and refreshing, they have tended to be more of an alcopop-slush: often brightly coloured, rather sweet, and made using a variety of artificial flavourings.

In contrast, Köld specifically state that they use natural fruit ingredients and quality spirits and liqueurs in their products. Looking at their website, they generally seem to take a more genuine approach and, as such, I would hope that the cocktail should taste more like the freshly-made equivalent cocktail than a day-glo liquid in a crown cap bottle.

With this in mind, I set about trying Köld’s current three varieties, which are all packaged at 8.0% ABV and sold in 225ml pouches.

Kold Cocktails CosmopolitanCosmopolitan
There is a pleasant tartness from the cranberry and zesty lime, and both of these fruity flavours are fresh and genuine. As an overall drink, this has a good balance and is certainly recognisable as a Cosmopolitan; as a matter of fact, it’s pleasantly reminiscent of a homemade Frozen Cosmopolitan.

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Kold Cocktails MojitoMojito
The Mojito is a popular candidate for pre-mixed cocktails. In my experience, some are better than others, and the Köld version is certainly one of the better ones. There is a good amount of mint and lime, as well as a little sweet, woody warmth from the white rum. This is fresh and crisp, very easy to drink and quite excellent.

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Kold Cocktails Lychee MartiniLychee Martini
It’s been a long time since I’ve had a Lychee Martini, but judging this drink on its own merits, I was impressed. There are plenty of the rich fruity, slightly floral flavours of the lychee coming through, alongside some hints of rose. This is a well-balanced and refreshing drink.

In Conclusion
The Köld cocktails are a good and well-made range, with genuine flavours that reflect the cocktails that they are based on. The ice slush helps to keep the drinks extra refreshing, making them perfect for a hot summer’s afternoon.

Ingredients List

Cosmopolitan
Water, Vodka, Orange Liqueur, cranberry Juice, Lime Juice, Natural Cosmopolitan Flavouring, Citric Acid – 78kcal per 100ml, 7.6g sugar per 100ml

Lychee Martini
Water, Vodka, Lychee Juice, White Grape Juice, Sugar, Natural Lychee Flavouring, Malic Acid, Cloudifier – 89 kcal per 100ml, 10.7g sugar per 100ml

Mojito
Water, White Rum, Lime Juice, Sugar, Natural Mojito Flavouring – 74 kcal per 100ml, 6.8g sugar per 100ml