Cocktail Cherry Tasting

We’re big fans of comprehensive tastings, whether they be for Vermouth, Old Tom Gin, Ginger Beer or the ubiquitous Fruit Cups, so, given the recent increased interest in homemade ingredients (including garnishes), I thought that it was about time to try a range of cherry garnishes. I sourced around half a dozen varieties, ranging from standard to gourmet American cherries.

Clockwise from top: Visciole del Cardinale, Opies Original, Filthy Maraschino

Clockwise from top: Visciole del Cardinale, Opies Original, Filthy Maraschino

We’re big fans of comprehensive tastings, whether they be for Vermouth, Old Tom Gin, Ginger Beer or the ubiquitous Fruit Cups, so, given the recent increased interest in homemade ingredients (including garnishes), I thought that it was about time to try a range of cherry garnishes. I sourced around half a dozen varieties, ranging from standard to gourmet American cherries.

In addition to trying each of the cherries on their own, we also tried them in a Manhattan.

#1) Opies Original (Maraschino Flavour)

These are one of the most common varieties of cocktail cherries made by B-Opies who were founded in 1880. They also make cocktail cherries coloured: Green (creme de menthe), Blue (blue curacao), Orange (curacao) and other garnishes. Ingredients*

Taster#1 (5) – Marzipan, then sharp and sour.
Taster#2 (5) – Marzipan to start, then very sweet.
Taster#3 (4) – Not great – too sweet and cloying.
Taster#4 (5) – Quite sweet, like cherry cola, with vanilla and almond. Has a reasonable texture.

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#2) Filthy Maraschino
Made by the American premium cocktail garnish company Filthy Food they are described as being “shockingly scarlet” and containing less than 1% of flavorings, coloring and preservatives.

Taster#1 (6) – A bit on the soft side; vanilla and heavy on the confectionery flavours.
Taster#2 (3) – Awful smell, soft fruity texture, too sweet
Taster#3 (4) – Lots of vanilla, bit of almond, quite artificial
Taster#4 (4) – Very bright colour, over-powering marzipan

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#3) Visciole del Cardinale

Hailing from Italy, Visciole del Cardinale are sour cherries in a thick pure sugar syrup, that’s it as such there are no colouring or flavourings. These cherries are also used for Visciolata del Cardinale and Acquavite del Cardinale. We tried the unpitted although pitted (no stones) are now available.

Taster#1 (8) – Slightly sour, strong cherry flavour with a hint of cough syrup, very tasty.
Taster#2 (8) – Genuine flavour, not too sweet, really like the pop of the texture
Taster#3 (7) – Good flavour tasty but the stones are a bit annoying
Taster#4 (7) – Juicy and miles away from the first two – lovely

Available in small jars (314gr.net) and large jars (1135gr.net)both pitted and unpitted. Available form Speciality Drinks for £26.95 for 1135gr.net.

#4) Opies Black Cherries with Kirsch

It is worth noting that these are probably designed to go in puddings (such as Black Forest Gateau) rather than cocktails but we thought we’d give them a go.

Taster#1 (4) – Too soft and soggy. The taste is not bad and it’s not too sweet.
Taster#2 (7) – The Kirsch goes well with the cherries. Flavour good texture soggy texture awful.
Taster#3 (7) – I really like these although the syrup is a bit strong.
Taster#4 (6) – Sogginess of the cherries really lets them down – good flavour.

#5) Filthy Black

Made by the American premium cocktail garnish company Filthy Food they are made from Italian Amarena cherry, slow cooked in copper pots. They also make a fine array of other garnishes such as olives including some stuffed with blue cheese. Their flagship product is an olive stuffed with a mini pickle which looks quite interesting.

Taster#1 (7) – Glacé cherry texture, with a nice flavour, not too sweet, tangy finish
Taste #2 (7) – Good taste and texture with a nice pop when you bite into it
Taster#3 (7) – Seems very much like a genuine cherry – that’s good.
Taster#4 (7) – A step above your average cherry with a slightly dark bitter taste

#6) Luxardo Maraschino Black Cherries

From Luzardo the Italian firm who also make a famous Maraschino Liqueur. They are made from cherries candied with Marasca syrup (what their liqueur is made out of). The contents of jar is stated as being a 50/50 split between  Marasca cherries and syrup. No thickening agents or preservatives are used.

Taster#1 (7) – A gluey texture and a taste of fruitcake and dark raisins; quite nice.
Taster#2 (7) – Tastes like a combination of cherry and raisins.
Taster#3 (7) – Quite a dark flavour. but pleasant.
Taster#4 (8) – Really like these, great texture, great flavour, yum!

Luxardo Maraschino Cherries are available for £7.49 for 400g from The Whisky Exchange.

How did they do in a Manhattan?

#1) Opies Original
This has slightly acidic notes, but you quickly get used to them after a couple of sips. The garnish and the cocktail seem to have very separate flavours that never integrate properly, with the cherry being marzipan heavy and the Manhattan tasting very much like an ungarnished Manhattan.

#2) Filthy Maraschino
Quite dry, with distinctive notes of the whiskey that work well with the strong vanilla of the cherries. This is quite sweet, almost dessert-like, although there’s a slightly cloying flavour afterward.

#3) Visciole del Cardinale
These are a lovely colour and produce a pleasantly dry cocktail; I’d probably add a little extra syrup next time I try this. The cherry most definitely takes centre stage when you come to eat it, though (beyond the fact that the stones get in the way!), with a strong, natural flavour.

#4) Opies Black Cherries with Kirsch
Not very attractive to look at and it takes a little while for the cherry’s flavour to really come through. The cherry also quickly disintegrates in the mouth, with a somewhat slushy texture. Unfortunately, although I’m sure some would like the texture of these, the whiskey seems to clash a tad with the Kirsch.

#5) Filthy Black
Sticky and sweet. The syrup from the cherry sticks to your teeth, and the general flavour coats your entire mouth with an artificial sweetness that then turns a bit acidic.

#6) Luxardo Maraschino Black Cherries
Good – the cherry adds a little sweetness and a hint of treacle and fruitcake. It both looks rather sophisticated in the glass and adds a subtle, but interesting twist to the drink. In addition, the syrup is heavy and pools at the bottom of the glass, meaning that you get a delicious, sweet  treat at the end of your drink.

* Ingredients:
1) Opies Cocktail Cherries – Cherries, Sugar, Water, Citric Acid, Flavouring, Colour E127, Preservative E220.
2) Filthy Red – TBC
3) Visciole del Cardinale – Cherries, Sugar
4) Opies Black Cherries with Kirsch – Cherries, Sugar, Kirsch
5) Filthy Black – Wild cherries, sugar, glucose syrup, filtered water, wild cherry juice, acidifant acid, natural flavourings, colour anthocyanins extracted from plants.
6) Luxardo – Marasca cherries, sugar Marasca cherry juice, glucose, citric acid, natural colour, Maraschino, flavours.

Navy Gin Tasting for Trafalgar Day

As part of my recent trip to New York, I arranged a Navy Strength Gin tasting, which was kindly hosted by New York Distilling. Upon our return to the UK, we decided to hold a second tasting in London, which also coincided with the UK launch of FEW Spirits by Ginuine Spirits.

The Navy Gin Tasting in New York (note Master of Malt had not yet released theirs at this time)

Navy Strength Gin dates back to the days of Empire and British naval superiority. At this time, gin for ships (the drink of naval officers) was bottled at 100 Proof (on a scale developed using the Bartholomew Sikes hydrometer), which is the modern equivalent of 57%ABV.* At this strength, if the gin was spilt on gunpowder (they were often stored together), the powder would still ignite.

In the 19th Century, Plymouth was home to Britain’s naval fleet and the distillery on the quayside (Blackfriars Distillery, the modern home of Plymouth Gin) was the supplier for much of the fleet. Subsequently, for many years, Plymouth Gin 100 Proof was made on and off, as required.

When Plymouth 100 Proof became a permanent feature of the distillery’s portfolio in 1993, the term “Navy Strength” was used over “100 Proof” as it was easier to understand and more clearly illustrated that the gin was stronger. It also seems a particularly fitting title, given the distillery’s historic naval connections.

The (Blind) Tasting at Graphic Bar in London

Fast forward to 2010 and the start of the current gin boom. The global availability of Plymouth Navy Strength was limited and US demand for stronger gin led to some distillers coming up with their own varieties of Navy Strength Gin.

So what’s the current definition of Navy Strength Gin?

Navy Strength Gin = Gin at 100 Proof (57-58%ABV)

Anything below this strength is “under-proof”, whilst anything above is “over-proof”. Thus, gins such as Old Raj Blue (55%ABV) and Finsbury 60 and Blackwoods 60 (both of which are bottled at 60%ABV) are not Navy Strength Gins.**

All of the gins that we tasted were 57%ABV and were tasted blind (even I didn’t know which was which). Here are our notes in the order in which the gins were tasted.

#1 – FEW Standard Issue (57%ABV)

Made by FEW Spirits at their distillery in Illinois, USA and recently arriving on British shores this gin has a different base and a different botanical mix to their American Gin.

Nose: Quite fragrant, with some vegetal notes, perhaps luscious tomato. There’s also some piney juniper, a fair bit of coriander, and some flowery notes, too.

Taste: With some maltiness and creaminess, everyone in the panel agreed that this had plenty of flavour. The grain elements came across as notes of toasted cornflakes. There was also plenty of coriander and other floral notes, such as honeysuckle, followed by a leafy herbalness and sweet pepper toward the end. The finish was pleasant and dry.

FEW Standard Issue is available for around £38 for 75cl from Master of Malt.

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#2 – Plymouth Navy Strength (57%ABV)

This is the original Navy Strength Gin and a long-time favourite of mine. It dates from the days of the Distillery’s origins in the naval town, although, for many years, it was not made on a regular basis. In 1993 (Plymouth Gin’s bicentenary), the Navy Strength became a regular in their product assortment. For Plymouth Gin, the term “Navy Strength” is simply an alternative to using 100 degrees proof; no more, no less. Plymouth Navy Strength is a higher strength version of their standard gin or, simply put, “The 42.4, but with less water”.

Nose: Juniper up-front, followed by citrus, coriander, earthy notes and a touch of cardamom.

Taste: This had a strong and intense flavour; almost a little peppery. It was very classic in style, with piney juniper, fresh and zingy citrus, and a slight sweetness towards the end, which was slightly reminiscent of caramelized orange peel.

Gin & Tonic: A very classic style of Gin & Tonic, this was very crisp, with juniper, some sweetness and a bitter finish. Quite a lot of citrus, too.

Martini: Flavourful and powerful, with juniper, some sweet citrus and spicy coriander. This cocktail had a long finish with plenty of cardamom, which I love. It had a real “wow” factor; simply superb. A textbook drink, worthy of the name “Silver Bullet”.

Negroni: Superb; perfect bitter/sweet balance, sweet jammy citrus, and hints of dark chocolate. Bold, intense, and delicious. My favourite.

Plymouth Navy Strength Gin is available for around £28 for 70cl from The Whisky Exchange.

#3 – Perry’s Tot by New York Distilling (57%ABV)
Made by NY Distilling based in Brooklyn, New York, this is a mix of 10 botanicals, including cinnamon, cardamom and star anise. It named after Matthew Calbraith Perry who served as Commandant of the Brooklyn Navy Yard from 1841-43.

Nose: Complex, with overriding characteristics of pine and coriander and some other, deeper herbal notes.

Taste: This was a departure from the classic style of gin, with an immediate POW! of flavour that’s invigorating and exciting. Notes of citrus and coriander were quite powerful, with some sweet liquorice root, too.

Gin & Tonic: Refreshing, complex and herbal, with a big dose of coriander. Whilst this drink sets itself apart, it’s not one for traditionalists.

Martini: Sappy and piney juniper, this cocktail was quite spicy with coriander, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Negroni: Slightly sweeter and spicier than a typical Negroni, with notes of juniper and milk and dark chocolate. Very tasty.

Perry’s Tot is available for around $33 for 75cl from Park Avenue Liquor of New York City (US only)

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#4 – Master of Malt’s Bathtub Gin Navy strength (57%ABV)

A stronger version of their revolutionary Bathtub Gin, which show that, mere “GIN” (by the EU definition) could be mighty tasty. The use of crushed botanicals (a difference to the Original Bathtub) means that the gin is not only BIG in terms of alcoholic strength but flavour intensity too.

Nose: Juniper, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Taste: Soft to start, followed by a huge burst of flavour: cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg and cloves. All in all, this was very christmassy and had quite a lot of warmth from the alcohol (but not burn). I think it will work wonders in autumnal and wintery cocktails; it’ll really warm the cockles.

Gin & Tonic: A cloudy mix, with nutmeg and cinnamon and some ginger, too. Quite refreshing, with quite a distinct, savoury side to it, too. Another lovely drink that would be good for Autumn and Winter.

Martini: Flavourful and intense, with lots of coriander, as well as sweet Winter spice. Very powerful, in terms of both alcohol and flavour.

Negroni: This could very well be called a Christmas Negroni; there’s a sweetness upfront, with notes of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves, as well some juniper and more sweetness towards the end.

Master of Malt Bathtub Navy Strength Gin is available for around £42 for 70cl from Master of Malt

#5 – Royal Dock Navy Strength Gin (57%ABV)

Rebranded and repackaged in 2012, initially for the American market, Royal Dock is now available to us in the UK and beyond. The recipe for the gin itself has been made since 1863 and has been supplied to the Admiralty as well as the wider trade. Made by the Hayman family, it is named after the Royal Dock at Deptford, a one time contemporary of the likes of Plymouth and Gosport. It uses Neutral Grain Spirit and a blend of 9 classic botanicals.

Nose: Classic and fresh, with juniper, citrus and liquorice.

Taste: Again, very classic in flavour, being smooth, clean and crisp. It was well-liked by most of the panel. There was a good amount of juniper, but it wasn’t overly sappy, being freshened up with citrus peel, coriander and spicy herbal notes. Quite excellent. Strong, yet smooth; just what you want from a Navy Gin.

Gin & Tonic: This ticks all the boxes: zesty, refreshing and clean; very classic and solid, with no outlandish characteristics. A real pleasure to drink. My favourite.

Martini: More flavourful than Plymouth, with greater flavours of spice, black pepper and coriander. Delicious and rather dry, in the classic Martini style. A really good, crisp and intense Martini.

Negroni: A clean, crisp and classic cocktail; no Negroni fan would be disappointed with this.

Royal Dock Navy Strength Gin is available for around £26 for 70cl from The Whisky Exchange

#6 – Leopold’s Navy Strength (57%ABV)
Launched in the Autumn/Fall of 2011, this is made using a different botanical mix to their excellent Original Gin and was designed to be more botanically intense, using Bergamot rather than hand-zested pomelos. Like the Original, each botanical is distilled separately and then they are all blended together.

Nose: Plenty of juniper, which dominates the nose.

Taste: Sweet and very, very piney, this had plenty of herbal notes. It was very warming, with a  warmth that gradually builds over time.

Gin & Tonic: A very herbal drink, with plenty of pine and some juicy citrus, which also made this particularly refreshing. It had intense flavours, with the greater concentrations of botanicals being evident.

Martini: Thick and viscous, with intense green and piney juniper, spicy coriander and crisp citrus notes. This was easily the most intense Martini, flavour-wise, of all that we tried and was certainly memorable. Very tasty and great for a change.

Negroni: Wow! A very flavourful, lively, herbal and piney Negroni. Whilst not to everyone’s taste, many will love it.

* It is worth noting that the strength of the rum of Naval Tots was calculated differently.
**Sun Liquor of Seattle make a Gun Club “Navy Strength” Gin, but, as this is bottled at a mere 50%ABV, for the purposes of this tasting it is not classed as a Navy Strength Gin.

Special thanks to all our panel of tasters: Michael of Ginuine Spirits, Paul of FEW, Zack and the folks at Graphic Bar, Mr Justin of North Virginia, Aaron of TheGinIsIn (America’s Gin Reviewer), Sean of Plymouth, Emma Stokes of London Cocktail Society, Chris of GinJourney, Dave Hollander of The New Sheridan Club, Clayton Hartley of The Candlelight Club, Dickie the GinSage, Mrs. B., Clint of Imbibe, Kirsty Chant of Chant Communications, Paul of G-Vine, Wilkes of @wilkes888 (The London based food and drink-o-phile), Olivier of TheGinBlog, NY Distilling, MasterofMalt (including photography), Hayman’s, Leopold’s, FEW and TheWhiskyExchange.

Yellow/Aged Gin Tasting – 8 Varieties Compared

At the end of last year, I posted a short introduction to Yellow Gin; this was a prelude to an event that took place this week: a Yellow Gin tasting.

Yellow Gin is the collective term for aged, matured or rested gin, i.e. any gin that has had contact with wood in order to modify its character. These terms will be used interchangeably in this article.

Aged gin is not something new; it’s almost as old as gin itself. In the early days of London Dry Gin, the spirit was not shipped in bottles or stainless steel tanks, but in wooden casks. Now most gin would have been drunk so quickly that the wood would have had little impact, but, of an occasion, some batches would be left for longer than others, giving the wood time to affect the gin. In particular, any gin being shipped a great distance in barrels would be affected in this way.

At some point, someone realised that this serendipitous approach to ageing imparted some pleasant and desirable characteristics on gin and so brands such as Booth’s began to deliberately “mature” their gin by storing it in casks for 6-12 weeks. In doing so, they created a more sophisticated product that they could charge more for.

Since the demise of Booth’s Gin, few others have bothered to set up this interaction between the spirit and wood, with the exception of Seagram’s, who have always rested or matured their gin for 3-4 weeks.

Things began to change in 2008 with the release of Citadelle Reserve, an gin that had been aged for 6 months. Since then, over 20 varieties of Yellow Gin have appeared on the market. These range from Hayman’s 1850, which is “cask rested” for 3-4 weeks, to Alembics 13yr Old Gin, which is “aged” for 11 years in whisky barrels and finished off in a Caribbean Rum Cask for two years.

A lot of innovation comes from the USA, where a lot of the stand-alone small distilleries make whisky as well as gin and so are used to the aging process. That said, the majority of Yellow Gins are only aged for less than 18 months. The general consensus from producers is that, after this time, the character of the gin – its juniper – is overwhelmed by that of the wood.

In part, we intended to see if this was genuinely the case during our tasting.

The Tasting

1) Seagram’s Extra Dry

This is the first of two gins in this tasting from the Canadian Brand, Seagram’s. Both are made in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA. Seagram’s Original was introduced in 1939 and is mellowed for 3 months in charred white oak whiskey (ex-bourbon) barrels. It is bottled at 40%ABV.

Colour: very light straw yellow
Nose: Quite light, juniper with coriander and citrus.
Taste: Quite smooth, with juniper, coriander and a touch of orange. Quite similar to a normal London Dry Gin with a slight mellow note of cream/vanilla/oak but it seems like the wood has more of an effect on the texture than the flavour.

Some of the panel didn’t think they Would have recognised the wood interaction if they hadn’t been told.

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2) Seagram’s Distiller’s Reserve

This was introduced in 2006 and is bottled at 51%ABV. It’s a blend of the best gins from Seagram’s Extra Dry, post-mellowing and bottled at cask-strength.

Colour: very light straw yellow
Nose: the nose seems less intense than the original with some juniper and citrus
Taste: Firstly the texture is quite different, viscous, silky and smooth. Most of the panel agreed that this was unusually smooth for a gin at 51%ABV. As well as juniper there was sweet liquorice and floral and citrus flavours.

Although other Seagram’s are aged for the same period of time the oak notes were far more pronounced in this version.

The oaky flavour became even more pronounced when a drop of water was added to both of the Seagrams Gins.

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3) Citadelle Reserve 2008 & 2010

Launched in 2008, this was the first in a new wave of Yellow Gins to come to market. The vintage released in the first year (2008) was a straightforward aging of the original 19-botanical gin. The gin is aged in French white oak, ex-Grand Champagne cognac casks; the exact length of the aging varies, as it is not bottled until it is deemed to be ready. Typically, the length of time lies between 5 and 9 months.

The botanical mix of the original gin for the 2009 vintage was tweaked to increase the floral notes of the spirit and likewise with the 2010 but this was in favour of more floral notes.

ii) 2008 Vintage
Colour: straw yellow – like Lillet Blanc
Nose: thick, floral anise and juniper, with some sweetness
Taste: oak and vanilla came through; this almost seemed halfway between whisky and gin. Very nice indeed

ii) 2010 Vintage
Colour: As above
Nose: perfumed, juniper and lemongrass
Taste: juniper and then some more floral notes, lavender violet and some rose, much more perfumed with high notes than in the 2008. Very discernible difference.

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4) Hayman’s 1850

This was created by the Hayman’s Family, who also make a variety of other gins, including Old Tom and London Dry.

Bottled at 40%ABV, Hayman’s 1850 harks back to the style of gin produced before William Gladstone (then Chancellor of the Exchequer) the Single Bottle Act of 1861 legislation was passed when gin was stored and transported in barrels.

As such Hayman’s 1850 is “rested” in barrels for 3-4 weeks.

Colour: clear with a very pale straw yellow
Nose: Juniper, with some spice and a hint of floral notes.
Taste: Juniper, floral, a little bite of citrus and a smooth, mellow finish with a hint of creamy vanilla. Quite smooth and subtle.

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5) Few Barrel-Aged Gin

Bottled at 65.4%ABV, this has been aged for 4 months in New American Oak.

Colour: light amber orange.
Nose: sweet wood and mint – bourbon

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Taste: dark sugar and treacle, minty wood, liquorice too. Good doses of sweet spice and gingerbread and ginger cake were mentioned by some panellists. Others picked up on aspects of candied peel. All round a charming product still reminiscent of some gin character but with the impact of the wood being definitely felt.

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This was enjoyed by all of the panel with the overall feeling that the balance between gin & wood flavours was just about right.

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6) Myrtle Gin

A very unique product, this is produced for the Spirit of the Coquet and is the result of a Scottish Gin, aged for 10 years, and infused with Northumberland Myrtle. It is bottled at 47%ABV

Colour: deep amber-brown, rather like apple juice.
Nose: Initially wood and whisky, then some smokiness (akin to the smoke of smoked salmon) then some vanilla notes and a floral herbal mix.
Taste: Full flavour at the start, woody followed with leafy herbal notes and a growing peaty character towards the end with a dry juniper finish that last for quite a long time.

Overall the panel agreed this was rather whisky like, with the big whisky fan of the group being particularly praiseworthy. One member really likes gin, is not much of a fan of Scotch, but very much liked the Myrtle Gin. Most agreed that it was complex and intriguing although one member dislike the smoky peatiness.

7) Alambics 13yr Old Caribbean Gin

Bottled at 65.6%ABV, this is created in Scotland for a German company using a “well-established” gin. It is distilled, matured and bottled in Scotland, but each run is of just 272 bottles. Uniquely, prior to bottling, it is aged for 11 years in old whisky barrels and then finished for two years in ex-Caribbean Rum casks.

Colour: medium amber
Nose: oak, vanilla, treacle with juniper at the very end
Taste: smooth to start with a slightly almost sticky texture, coriander, citrus with a slight burnt orange biscuityness. Growing strength with a pine/juniper dryness coming at the end and once you’ve swallowed. Long finish.

With a drop of water more of the woody rum elements come out. All the panel agreed that this was surprisingly little burn for a cask strength product.

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8) Ransom

Bottled at 44%ABV, this is made by Ransom Spirits of Oregon, USA. It is described as a historic recreation of the type of gin that was in fashion in mid-1800s America and the recipe was developed in collaboration with David Wondrich.

Colour: medium orange-brown
Nose: Pine, sap, a hint of cedarwood and cardamon.

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Taste: There was a little smooth silkiness at the start, followed by sappy, piney juniper, some vanilla and oak. There were herbal hints, too, and a little tingle towards the end. The wood comes through again, very much like freshly cut wood, rather natural and forest-like.

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Some Reflections

Broadly, the Yellow Gins we tried could be placed into three groups:

#1) Light Wood – In these, the effect of the wood is much lighter and, in some cases, tricky to pick out.

Examples include: Seagram’s Original, Citadelle Reserve and Hayman’s 1850.

#2) Medium Wood – There’s more of a balance between the flavours of the gin and the wood, with each playing almost equal parts in the character of the finished product.

Examples include: Seagram’s Distiller’s Reserve, Few Aged Gin and (possibly) Ransom.

#3) Heavy Wood – This category is heavily impacted by the wood, to the point where some of the gin character is lost. In some cases, it may not be instantly recognisable as gin.

Examples include: Myrtle Gin 10yr Old and Alambic’s 13yr Old Caribbean Cask.

After our tasting, discussion turned to how we would make our “perfect” Yellow Gin. The general consensus was to go with a gin with a pretty classic botanical mix: anything with up to about 8 traditional botanicals, such as: juniper, coriander, orris root, angelica, orange, lemon, liquorice, or almond. We thought that a heavy botanical mix, with a good juniper hit, would be needed to ensure the gin was not lost by the woody notes.

The Results

Unusually, the panel members struggled to pick an overall favourite of the bunch, so everyone picked, in no particular order, their top three. Each choice received a point and the final scores were:

#1 – Few Barrel-Aged Gin
#2 – Myrtle Gin
#3 – Alambics 13yr Old 

But that’s not it; there will be a follow up article feature a rather unusual smoked gin coming soon.

For a list of aged gin that we have not yet tried click here.

A special thanks goes out to: Adam S, Adam P, Paul, Roz, Chris, Few Spirits, Aaron, Matthew, James, Jared, Olivier, Sam, Clayton, Billy, Emma, Sara and of course Zack & his team at Graphic.

Bianco Vermouth Tasting


So far we’ve had a Dry Vermouth Tasting and a Red Vermouth Tasting but what about that third variety of vermouth, the one that many folks write-off as a product of the 80s and best drunk with lemonade or splashed over Joan Collins.

Bianco, also known as white sweet is a middle ground between dry and sweet vermouth, it is less herbal intense and lighter than red vermouth but sweeter than dry vermouth. From my research it seems especially popular in Eastern Europe with some companies based there only making this variety. For this article we will refer to it simply as “Bianco”

A Selection of Bianco Vermouth

We will tasted the vermouths on their own.
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#1 Martini Bianco (15%ABV)

The brand synonymous with vermouth, the exact recipe is a closely guarded secret.
Nose: Sharp citrus with some musky woody notes, some herbal olive notes.
Taste: Quite thick and rich, a little tartness followed by a long herbal bitterness. Quite a lot of flavour and a clear transition between dry and sweet vermouth.
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#2 Toso (14.8%ABV)
Made by Toso SpA a company over 100 years old and based in Cossano Belbo, in North-west Italy; they also make a Dry, Bianco and Orange vermouth.
Nose: floral, pine nuts, pressed flowers, almond, fresh pesto
Taste: Floral and light, not too sweet. A little nutty with foresty alpine flavour and madiera notes. Subtle but pleasant.
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#3 Cinzano (14.8%ABV)
Owned by the Campari Group, Cinzano Vermouth was first produced in 1757.
Nose: Herbal, citrus
Taste: Thick texture, flavourful, bitter but quite a short finish. Unusual but some panel liked the bitterness and found the aftertaste pleasant just as many didn’t.

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#4 Forteni (14.4%ABV)
I don’t know too much about this vermouth, but it was purchased in Carrefour for seven euros. It is made by V.N.P.S.p.A – Asti.
Nose: Sweet herbal and fruity
Taste: Vanilla, thyme and cloves. A bit sticky but still pelasant hint sof white chcoloate, honety and stone fruits. Supringlsy similar to sloe gin.

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#5 Fillipetti (14.8%ABV)
Made by Perlino who’s Dry vermouth and Classico Rosso scored very well in previous tastings.
Nose: Marzipan & Sherbert
Taste: Quite pleasant and herbal most found it rather good but some found it too sweet. It had a confectionery quality like boiled fruit sweets.

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#6 Home-made (14%ABV)
This was made using a combination of the recipes for Red and White Vermouth.
Nose: Tinned fruit (in a good way), small pudding fruit, fruit cocktail
Taste: Honey, bitter and herbal notes, sweet but not over the top.

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#7 Dolin
Made in Chambery, near the French-Swiss border, Chambery vermouth has Geographical Indication (GI) status, like Plymouth Gin, Champagne and the Cornish Pasty.
Tasting notes coming soon

#8 Bellino Bianco (13%ABV)

Not technically a vermouth but a mix of wine, grape juice and herbs.

Nose: Very thin on the nose, lemonbalm and pine
Taste: Once again rather sparse, watery with light herbal notes. Quite insubstantial.

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#9 Stock (16%ABV)
Made by the Stock Spirit Company, whose biggest markets are in Italy and Slovenia, Stock is made with Italian Table Wine and Italian Brandy and is infused with more than 50 herbs & spices. They also make a Dry and a Rosso vermouth, in addition to a very tasty Maraschino.
Nose: Pear drops, oats, straw, ripe berries and fermenting fruit
Taste: Smooth, fruity with medium sweetness.Slight nuttiness with a touch of smoke. I reminded some panelists of salt caramel.

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#10 Vinelli (14.8%ABV)
From Aldi made by V.N.P.S.p.A – Asti, the same folks that make Forteni.
Nose:
Taste: Initially herby with a lack of sweetness, there was some bitterness and a very unpleasant sickly sweetness at the end.

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In Conclusion

Just like Dry Vermouth and Red Vermouth the varieties of Bianco Vermouth vary a lot between themselves. Although, in general, it seems clear that they are sweeter than dry but dryer than red. I also think Bianco has a lot of cocktail potential and an article covering that will be published in the near future. One thing is clear, Bianco is worth a second look.

Scottish Gin Tasting

In recent years there has been an increase in gin distilling in Scotland and, what with the patriotic nature of some of the brands, we decided to look a little closer at the Caledonian Gin.*

I was particularly interested as to whether or not there were any shared characteristics amongst the group that might not be so common in non-Scottish gins; this will be addressed at the end.The tasting was conducted at Graphic Bar in Golden Sq., Soho; a fine example of a Modern Gin Palace with a range of over 130 gins. The panel was made up of willing volunteers from The Juniper Society, which is hosted by Graphic two times a month.
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L-R: Boe, Hendricks (USA), Old Raj Blue, Edinburgh Gin, Cadenhead Classic, The Botanist, Darnley’s View, Old Raj Red, Hendricks(UK), Caorunn

The gins were tasted blind and we tried them on their own and with tonic water, with no garnish. The gins are listed in the order tasted and alcoholic strength is denoted by %ABV.

#1 Old Raj Red (46%)
This made by Cadenhead and was created in 1972. It contains 8 botanicals and then has saffron added to it. Rather than being clear, it is a light golden colour; having said that, only one member of the panel noticed this.

Nose: Juniper, citrus, slightly floral.
Taste: Strong flavours: lime, juniper, citrus and coriander. Not massively complex, but lots of flavour.
With tonic: The panel found this rather pleasant, and spicier with tonic. Fresh and refreshing, it was thought that it wouldn’t really need a garnish.

For more information on Old Raj click here.

Old Raj Red is available from The Whisky Exchange for around £23 for 70cl.

#2 Edinburgh Gin (46%)

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Nose: Juniper, floral, herbacious.
Taste: Almost all of the panel found strong flavours of nutmeg and cinnamon, as well as some creaminess and a Plymouth-like sweetness.
With Tonic: Mixed views here: some of the panel found it clean, crisp and liked its spiciness, but others found it to be a bit flat.

Edinburgh Gin is available from The Drink Shop for around £25 for 70cl..

#3 Cadenhead’s Classic (50%)
Made by the same folks as Old Raj Red and Blue.

Nose: Subdued, fruity, juniper.
Taste: A more intense taste than nose, with heavy juniper, some pepper, citrus and a hint of bitterness, rather like a classic London Dry Gin style. One of the panel described it as “rather lovely”.
With tonic: Dry and bitter, with a little sherbet sweetness. Generally the panel thought that this was a robust, no nonsense Gin & Tonic.

Cadenhead’s Classic Gin is available from The Whisky Exchange for around £25 for 70cl.

#4 Hendrick’s UK (41.4%)
Made by William Grants and containing 13 botanicals. The gin is made using a combination of distillation from both pot and Carterhead stills and is finished off with the addition of cucumber and rose essences.

Nose: Fresh, leafy, floral, cucumber rind.
Taste: Fresh, smooth and silky. Floral, in particular rose and lavender. A general, green leafy flavour; maybe cucumber? One panelist described it as “pretty”.
With tonic: Refreshing, crisp and fresh. Delicious; this was very popular with the panel.

For our full review Hendrick’s click here.

Hendrick’s UK is available from Tesco and Waitrose for around £22 for 70cl.

The Panel

#5 Caoruun (41.8 %)
Caoruun contains five Scottish Celtic botanicals; dandelion, bog myrtle, heather, coul blush apple and rowan berry.
Nose: Juniper, citrus and a little aggressive
Taste: Quite light, a musky juniper and citrus as well as some earthy notes, very clean, quite nice.
With Tonic: A soft flavour, juniper, citrus and quite smooth.
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Caorunn is available from Master of Malt for around £25 for 70cl.
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#6 Hendrick’s (44%)
This is the US version of #4, which is bottled 2.6%ABV higher than the UK version; it makes a surprising difference to the taste.
Nose: Minimal citrus, some juniper, strong floral.
Taste: Very floral, with hints of lavender, violet, rose, plus juniper and some green leaves.
With Tonic: Very tasty; well-balanced, flavourful and fresh. A real hit with the panel, although one member would prefer to drink it on its own than with tonic.

For our full review Hendrick’s click here.

#7 The Botanist (46%)
This made by Brudladdich, a Scottish whisky distillery in Islay. It contains a staggering 31 botanicals, a list of which can be found here.

Nose: Quite soft; juniper, spice, a slight soapy, floral quality.
Taste: Juniper and coriander and quite a heavy perfume quality, with different flowers and herbal notes. Quite smooth and a long finish.
With Tonic: Rather pleasant, with a good finish; balanced. This was particularly liked by one member of the panel.

For our full review of The Botanist click here.

The Botanist is available from Master of Malt for around £25 for 70cl.

#8 Boe (47%)
Boe Gin is

Nose: Floral, herbs, pine, vanilla.
Taste: Quite a complex taste; herbs, lavender, spice, cinnamon, angelica and, towards the end, a vanilla-oak note. Quite strong, alcohol-wise, but this comes through as warmth rather than burn.
With Tonic: An excellent fresh and moreish gin and tonic, this was a favourite of a few of the panel members.

Boe Gin is available from Master of Malt for around £28 for 70cl.

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#9 Old Raj Blue (55%)
The high-strength version of Old Raj Red.
Nose: A very strong nose; almost perfume-like, with juniper and flowers.
Taste: The perception of alcoholic strength continues in the flavour, as does the juniper and refined floral notes.
With Tonic: The panel thought that this Gin & Tonic had a real kick to it and that it tasted very strong; that said, most of them really enjoyed it and their drinks were quickly finished off.
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For our full review of Old Raj click here.
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Old Raj Blue is available from The Whisky Exchange for around £26 for 70cl.
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#10 Darnley’s View (40%)
Named after the husband of Mary Queen of Scots and containing six botanicals including locally sourced Elderflower this is the newest Scottish Gin on the market.
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Nose: Juniper, floral a slight mineral quality.
Taste: Very soft with a water-like smoothness and a slight warmth at the end. Juniper and rather floral with hints of rose and violets, long finish.
With Tonic: Soft, flavourful and refreshing. Rather pleasant although less intense then some of the others.

For our full review of Darnley’s View click here.

Darnley’s View is available from Royal Mile Whiskies for around £25 for 70cl.

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#11 Blackwoods Vintage 2008 (40%)
A scottish Gin using a variety of botanicals include those that grow wild in the Shetland Isles. Blackwoods also make 60% version of their gin.
Nose: Strong and complex with juniper, citrus and earthy herbal notes.
Taste: Very smooth and soft, citrus juniper and herbs as well a s touch of floral. Juicy and excellent.
With Tonic: Very refreshing and juicy as well as being full of flavour.
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Blackwoods is available from The Whisky Exchange for around £19 for 70cl.
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The Results

Each member of the panel ranked their top three gins and these choices were recorded. We then allocated points as follows: three points for a first choice, two for second, and one for third.
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The results were:
#1 Hendrick’s USA
#2 Old Raj Blue
#3 Hendrick’s UK
#4 Old Raj Red
#5 Cadenhead Classic
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Scottish Gin Characteristics

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After the tasting and some thought, I remain unconvinced as to whether there is a particular set of flavour characteristics common to Scottish Gins; some seemed to be more floral and less juniper-led then a  London Dry Gin, but then others seemed rather classic in style. The control gin (meant to stand out as a classic style) was lost amongst the rest of them.
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There was definitely a trend for the bottles to emphasise their Scottish heritage and quite a few use locally sourced or indigenous botanicals – heather and bog myrtle being quite popular – but this is no different to the sourcing techniques of other gins such as Moore’s (Australia) and Death’s Door (Wisconsin, USA).
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Many thanks to the panel, Graphic Bar and the Gin Producers of Scotland for making this article possible.

*I’ve not included Tanqueray and Gordon’s as they used to be made in London and the move to Scotland was one of economics. In addition, today there is, otherwise, nothing particularly Scottish about them.

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Red Vermouth Tasting – A Comparison of 18 Red Vermouths

I’ve got a little gin research project going on that is due the end of February. The survey is simple and takes 90 seconds please help us out by completing the survey.

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A Collection of Red Vermouths CLICK TO ENLARGE

After our Dry Vermouth Tasting it seemed a natural progression to arrange a Red/Sweet/Italian Vermouth Tasting (the next step will be a Bianco Tasting) for the purposes of this article I will refer to this sweeter style of vermouth as “Red Vermouth” to avoid confusion. I used to think that the red colour in this type of Vermouth came from the use of red wine it appears that this is not usually the case and that the colour comes from the sugar or herbs used (sometimes colouring agents are added).

We decided to taste the vermouths in three ways, on their own (at room temperature) in Manhattans and in Negronis. For the Manhattans we were kindly supplied with tow bottles of Zuidam 5yr Old Dutch Rye. The Manhattans were mixed two parts Zuidam Rye, one part Red vermouth and a dash of Angostura, the mixture was stirred and served without a garnish.

On with the tasting…#1 Martini Rosso (15%ABV)
The brand synonymous with vermouth, Martini Rosso has been the company’s staple product since its founding in 1863. The exact recipe is a closely guarded secret.

Own: Sweet, but deliciously herbal; a very classic example by all accounts. A number of the panelists confessed that they were surprised at how good it was.
Manhattan:
Classic and rather tasty; there was a good balance between the flavours of the whisky and the vermouth, with some extra herbal and vanilla notes. Needs one more dash of bitters.
Negroni:
Sweet and herbal, packed with flavours; a classic. Deliciously moreish.

I think it’s fair to conclude the Martini Rosso tasting notes by saying that a lot of the panel were not expecting a lot from this product, but that it is very clear that it was exceptionally good and easily competed with products costing over twice the price.

Martini Rosso is available from most supermarkets and off licences: £8 (70cl).

#2 Bellino Rosso (13%ABV)
Not technically a vermouth but a mix of wine, grape juice and herbs.

Own: Very sweet and heavy on the vanilla, needs more flavour. Confectionery feel mingling with the grape juice. Not great.
Manhattan: Better than expected, not very complex slightly cloying.
Negroni: Bellino is robust against the Campari with notes of vanilla and grape juice.

Bellino Rosso available from Tesco £2.39 (70cl).

#3 Punt e Mes (16%ABV)
Made by Carpano, this is an aperitif based on hillside wine, sugar and mountain herbs. The recipe was defined in 1870 and owes its name to a stockbroker: “Punt e Mes” means “Point & a half” in the Piedmontise dialect.

Own: Rather bitter, with strong notes of Gentian root. The complexity of this was popular with the majority of the panelists, although two members thought that it was far too bitter.
Manhattan: Flavours of black cherry and burnt sugar/caramel. Flavours of the whisky come through nicely. Overall, a rather good, but mysterious and contemplative drink.
Negroni: Sophisticated and complex flavours. Quite bitter (but not as bitter as I had expected), and the bitterness is balanced well with a sweet finish.

Punt e Mes is available for around £11 from TheWhiskyExchange.

#4 Toso (14.8%ABV)
Made by Toso SpA a company over 100 years old and based in Cossano Belbo, in North-west Italy; they also make a Dry, Bianco and Orange vermouth.

Own: Toso has a very dark colour and the nose of a classic red vermouth. It was light and sweet, with hints of vanilla. In terms of taste, it was okay, but rather forgettable.
Manhattan: Inoffensive, but a touch dull. Some herbal notes, but they are very subtle.
Negroni: Far too bitter; the herbal notes are lost as the Campari overpowers vermouth. Awful.

#5 Byrhh (18%ABV)
Byrhh was created in 1873 and is mad using a blend of Muscat mistelles, Macabeu and Grenache, which is then macerated with a various herbs and spices as well as Quinquina bark (the bitter taste in tonic water) this is then aged in small oak barrels.
On a side note the Byrhh bottle was the favourite of the panel.

Own: Berries and other fruit on the nose. The taste has a good balance of sweet and bitter; quite light, with herbs and fruit and a subtle port-like quality. Very good.
Manhattan: A rather unusual Manhattan, with great subtleties and it isn’t very sweet at all. A very different sort of Manhattan.
Negroni: Clean and crisp, and less bitter than a normal Negroni. Byrrh really takes the edge off of the Campari. Delicious.

Byrrh is available for around £19 (75cl) from The DrinksShop

#6 Stock (16%ABV)
Own:
Nose:Very rich and herbal nose, almost thick with a hint of bitterness.
Taste: The same richness and complexity a little syrupy but with herb and vanilla notes and a touch of bitterness at the end but more restrained than that of Antica Formula.

#7 Fillipetti Rosso
Made by Perlino who’s Dry vermouth scored very well in our last tasting. They also make a Bianco and the Classico (see below).

Own: The nose of a classic vermouth, with all the sweet and herbal elements that go with that. Quite a simple flavour: soft, with a little tartness. Very drinkable on its own.
Manhattan: The flavour of this was a little flat and quite sweet, but good overall.
Negroni: Sweet, with a subtle complexity and balanced bitterness. Pleasant.

#8 Antica Formula (16.5%ABV)
Made by Carpano, who also make Punt e Mes and a regular Red Vermouth this comes in an impressive litre bottle and is a based on a recipe from 1786.

Own: Nose of vanilla, orange peel and a certain saltiness. Quite complex, with a herbal bitter end and notes of: fresh straw, bread, chocolate and vanilla.
Manhattan: Very hearty flavours, extremely well-balanced, with a lovely sweetness and a little hint of herbs. Absolutely superb!
Negroni: An intense Negroni, rich and herbally rather bitter. If you like your Negroni full of flavour and not too sweet, this may be worth a try.

Antica Formula is available for around £31 (1 litre) from TheWhiskyExchange

#9 Cinzano (15%ABV)
Owned by the Campari Group, Cinzano Vermouth was first produced in 1757. It includes a variety of herbal ingredients, including: nutmeg, coriander, juniper, orange peel, cloves and vermouth.
Own: Similar to the Martini Rosso, but with more floral and vanilla notes; it was also more bitter. Once more, this was better than expected.
Manhattan: Quite pleasant; some herbal notes, but could do with a touch more flavour.
Negroni: Off-balance, with clashing flavours. Not that great.

#10 Dolin Rouge (16%ABV)
Made in Chambery, near the French-Swiss border, Chambery vermouth has Geographical Indication (GI) status, like Plymouth Gin, Champagne and the Cornish Pasty.

Own: The nose was akin to an ancient bookshop, with a slightly salty wine element. The taste reminds me of the sea, with savoury elements and a balanced sweetness.
Manhattan: This cocktail had a strong, sweet cherry flavour (even though the drink was served without garnish), followed by herbal notes in the middle, but wasn’t too complex. Still, it was very nice and had a jammy/berry finish.
Negroni: Fresh, with the herbal notes really coming through. The Dolin lightly rounds off the edges of the Campari, but not enough for the drink to loses its character; very good.

#11 Forteni Rosso (14.4%ABV)
I don’t know too much about this vermouth, but it was purchased in Carrefour for seven euros.

Own: A faint jelly/confectionery element on the nose, like Jelly Tots or cola bottles. A rather underwhelming taste, with an artificial sweetness and an unpleasant metallic note. One panelist summed it up with the following: “clumsy, but not a disaster”.
Manhattan: A rather dull cocktail that needs a lot more flavour.
Negroni: Rather poor, with clumsy flavours; illustrates how important the vermouth is in a Negroni.

Forteni is available from Carrefour  €7 (70cl)

#12 Fillipetti Classico
This is the Rolls Royce of the Fillipetti range, based on the Classical style of vermouth, this sets itself apart from the majority of products out there.

Own: A subtle nose, with faint hints of herb and spice. The taste is great if not a touch bitter, overall it is pretty well balanced though with sweetness following the bitter. Some hints of Menthol and Anise. Excellent and very moreish.
Manhattan: Has a certain sharpness, but is still very nice; less sweet than some of the others, but more flavourful. Very good indeed.
Negroni: From one of our panelists: “Its sweetness was a good foil to the Campari with a rich, almost port-like wine flavour. Unexpectedly, however, it lent a delicious butterscotch note to the drink. Although some of the subtleties of this particular vermouth might be obliterated by Campari’s gutsy bitterness, its herbal flavour was noticeable right at the end, after the bitter kick had subsided.”

#13 Dubonet
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Own: Much, much lighter and more pleasant than I had imagined; it just goes to show how much difference a fresh bottle makes.

Dubonet is available from Waitrose and Tesco for around £9 (70cl)

#14 Home-made
For this, I used the recipe which can be found here.

Own: A nose of sweet herbs, orange and green moss. Sweet initially, followed by some more bitter herbal notes and a slightly biscuity finish. Too sweet.
Manhattan: Vermouth blends well with the rye whisky, making an exceptionally smooth drink with a warming herbal after taste with a touch of sweetness and a hint of citrus.
Negroni: Sweetness of vermouth balances out the bitterness of Campari quite well but the vemrouth culd do with a bit more flavour-strength.

#15 Lillet Rouge (17%ABV)
Tasting Notes Coming Soon

#16 Marolo Vino Chinato
Marolo was started in 1977 by Paolo Marolo, with the aim of taking a rustic, local product and transforming it into a distilled art. The Chinato is made at the Santa Teresa Distillery using two “Bain Marie” (water bath) stills, one filled with white pomace and the other with red. The product is infused with cinchona bark and a variety of other rinds and herbs, such as gentian, cinnamon, rhubarb, clove and coriander. Finally, the Chinato is aged in acacia and oak barrels before bottling. Marolo also make a range of aged and non-aged Grappa.

Own: A very dark red, in a similar way to red vermouth, but this has an even deeper colour. Hints of cinnamon and thyme initially, with some sweetness; this is followed by a more bitter edge. Overall, the drink was complex and herbal, with a similar lasting finish to tonic water.
Negroni: This was a superb shade of dark crimson and a wonderfully smooth drink. The flavour of the gin came through first, then the deep, herbal warmth from the Chinato, before the final bitter finish from the Campari; at the very end there was a sweet lift that neatly rounds off the drink.
Manhattan: This was less sweet than most Manhattans, so would be a good option if you prefer your cocktails on the dry side. There were dry, herbal notes throughout, with a very long, warm finish. If you’d like the drink a little sweeter, I would suggest adding a Maraschino Cherry. Really rather good.

#17 Vya Sweet (17%ABV)
Vya Sweet is made with a base of Muscat wine and is infused with herbs and spices. It’s made in the Quady Winery in California, USA.

Own: A fresh nose, with woody elements and a faint hint of coconut. Very fresh and herbal with a slight oiliness (that isn’t unpleasant); also, once more, a hint of fresh coconut flesh.
Manhattan: Coming Soon
Negroni: Coming soon

#18 Noilly Prat Rouge (16%ABV)
Made in Southern France, using white wine as its base. Some of these wines are aged in oak casks and then infused with herbs and spices. This is sadly no longer available in the UK, its main market is the USA, it is a real shame but the lovely ladies at Bacardi-Martini and their PR company sorted em out with a bottle. My profound thanks to them, the tasting just wouldn’t have been compelte without this.

Own: Slightly malty, soft and sweet. Herbal and well-rounded. Some of the panel expected more from this, but just as many really enjoyed it.
Manhattan: Rather pleasant, fruity herbal notes with a little musky woodiness and some fresh green leaves. It worked well with this but even better with  Jim Beam Yellow.
Negroni: Fruity and sweet, with a bitter finish. Complex, with a flavour crescendo. Rather good.

In Conclusion
The first thing that we noticed is that red vermouth was much nicer to drink on its own than dry vermouth and, as an ingredient, it is both more versatile and there was a greater variety within the category as a whole. The second thing to note is that whichever red vermouth you choose to use makes a big difference when mixing either a Manhattan and Negroni.

Best Aperitif: Fillipetti Classico & Antica Formula

Best Manhattan: Antica Formula

Best Negroni: Byrhh & Punt e Mes

Best All-rounder: Martini Rosso

High Recommendations:

Dolin Rouge & Noilly Rogue

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Fruit Cup Tasting – Beyond Pimm’s

Many readers will be familiar with the most popular brand of Fruit Cup, Pimm’s, but let me introduce you to its lesser-known competition. What is a Fruit Cup? It’s a spirit or fortified wine-based drink bottled at between 10% and 30%ABV it is infused with various herbs and spices and if often lengthened by adding lemonade, ginger ale or apple juice. A fruit garnish and plenty of ice is part of the typical serve.

With the sunny start of the Bank Holiday, we took the opportunity to take to the garden and taste a variety of fruit cups. We mixed 35ml of cup with 105ml of lemonade (our preference was R Whites), we added ice, and a garnish of lemon, orange, cucumber and mint. We assessed each drink in terms of the overall taste, how refreshing and how “moreish” (did you wish to drink more) it was.

Summer Fruit Cups: From Left to Right: Jeeves, Pimms, Plymouth, ASDA, Stones, Players, Austins, Pitchers.

Here are the results:

Player’s Original Punch21.5%ABV                                                   j  Produced by Lamb & Watt of Liverpool, Player’s may be a little trickier to come by, and appears to be mostly found in specialist off licences these days, but it is well worth the effort. Player’s sweet, fruity style is what one would typically expect from a good summer fruit cup. This summery drink is very refreshing and perfect to enjoy on a sunny day. If you are looking for a very traditional, yet refreshing, fruit cup flavour, this would be your best bet.

Player’s is now available from Asda at around £6 for 70cl

Austin’s – 21.9%ABV -                       Available from Aldi                               y Aldi’s offering has an attractive price tag. It has a similar flavour to Pimm’s and I know folks who use it as an affordable substitute. That said, it does not have a very strong flavour and when mixed with lemonade it struggles to add anything to the flavour of the mixer. With time, ice melt and the infusion of the garnish the flavour improves but it is not nearly as refreshing nor is it as moreish as some of the others we tried. A garnish is essential with this one.


Pimm’s No.1 Gin Cup – 25%ABV      Available in most supermarkets and off-licences   Owned by drink’s giant Diageo, Pimm’s is the oldest and the best known fruit cup. Although there are other varieties of Pimm’s (such as Vodka No.6), we tasted No.1 (gin based). The Pimm’s flavor was surprisingly not as strong as some of its contemporaries and was also quite sweet. The aftertaste of sherbet lemons was both unique and pleasant. A drink that was both refreshing and relatively moreish. This was Mrs B’s favourite before we started and, although we both enjoyed it, in comparison to the others it was rather middle-of-the-road.

Jeeves – 17.5%ABV - Available from Tesco           This drink clings to the mouth, it has a strong but unpleasant flavour, similar to bitter herbs which was somewhat reminiscent of old vermouth. This was neither refreshing nor moreish. Less than half the price of Pimm’s, but not even half as good. However, the drink did improve as the ice started to melt.

Fruit Cup, Lemonade and Garnish – Lovely

Plymouth Fruit Cup – 30%ABV            Available from Plymouth Gin Distillery and selected off-licences.                                                                                           A complex flavour of herbs and spices, which reminds me of Italian vermouth with a good balance of sweetness and bitterness. This cup has the highest alcoholic strength, which gives it a little more of a punch but it’s certainly not too much. With the exception of the Stones cup, this was the most unique with a flavour which is full, but not overpowering. Plymouth Fruit cup produces a cool and refreshing drink and certainly leaves you wanting more.

It also worth noting that Plymouth also suggest trying mixing their cup with ginger ale; we tried this later and were inclined to agree that it improved the drink further. Definitely one of our favourites.
I’m not sure how much more of Plymouth Fruit Cup Plymouth will be making, so if you want some, buy it when you see it.

ASDA Summer Fruit Cup - 15%ABV - Available from ASDA             This divided opinion (who would have thought a fruit cup could be controversial!), one of us enjoyed the low-key sweet fruitiness and more prevalent herbal notes, which are somewhat reminiscent of peppered celery; the other found the taste and smell overpowering, and the drink unrefreshing.

Stones Summer Cup – 13.5% ABV                                                                     This is produced by the makers of the famous Ginger Wine of the same name and is marketed as a light version of their ginger wine. This has a different flavour but it was a break-away that worked well, it stands away from the crowd and looks pretty good. The flavour has a little spice and a small hint of ginger: it is fresh and refreshing. The drink was complimented nicely by the garnish.

It is worth noting that Stone’s suggest mixing their drink one part of cup to four parts of lemonade. When we subsequently tried another drink, mixed to these proportions, the difference was a very pleasant surprise as the edge of the flavour was taken off and the drink became incredibly refreshing and easily the most drinkable. An excellent option, particularly if you are looking for an option which isn’t as strong as Pimm’s.
This Product is now, very sadly,  discontinued however I find a mix of 2 parts Stones Ginger Wine and One Part Red/Sweet Vermouth is a good substitute.
Pitchers – 25% ABV - Available from Sainsbury’s                                            Very close in terms of flavour, strength and even packaging to Pimm’s and priced at over £10 a bottle, this is the most expensive of the more generic varities we tried. However it is one of the better ones; although it clings a little to the mouth initially, the drink was refreshing with a balance of sweetness and spice that was, fortunately, not too sweet. This, made up in a jug, and shared with friends would be lovely…
Sipsmith Summer Cup – % ABV Available from Waitrose & Majestic                                            V
Oxford Originals – % ABV                                             V

In Conclusion

My favourite was Stones Fruit Cup (although the home-made substitute is easy to make and also pretty good) so now the clear winner is Plymouth followed by Players. Pimm’s clearly beats most of the supermarket own-brand and whilst Pitcher’s puts up a good fight at a price similar, or sometime above Pimm’s is worth switching?If you want a cheap alternative that is still pretty good I would suggest Austin’s or, even better, a home-made mix of ginger wine and red vermouth – I have used even the cheapest of ingredients; Ginger Wine £4 a litre, Bellino “Vermouth” £2.50 for 70cl that works out at just £3.83 a litre.

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*more varieties of Pimm’s used to be available (No2-5; Scotch, Brandy Rum & Rye, respectively) and we keen to experiment with Tequila, Bourbon, Cachaca, White rum etc. too. Pimm’s No7…?

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Old Tom Gin Tasting – 10 Varieties Compared

This is the first installment to what I hope will be a continuous series entitled “Raiders of the Lost Cocktail Cabinet”, in which I will look at drinks ingredients that feature in vintage cocktail books (pre-1950), but that have since become defunct or obsolete, meaning that a true recreation of some cocktail was especially difficult.Luckily, over the recent years, there have been a growing number of innovative folks who have set about trying to recreate some of these long-lost ingredients, either using inspiration from old recipes or by backwards-engineering remaining artifacts of the products.This week we shall look at Old Tom Gin. I remember, when I first became enthusiastic about gin, I heard about Old Tom, but never tried it. The first one I ever tried was Boords (when I was in the excellent Bramble Bar in Edinburgh) and I recall being disappointed, thinking that it just tasted like normal gin.* Since then, things have changed a lot and there are many more Old Tom Gins on the market.

There is a lot of discussion about what Old Tom Gin was like and why it came about; one theory is that it was a sweetened gin and that this was partly done to disguise the taste of the gin (that was less-refined when compared to today’s standards). The fact that a lot of gin would have been stored in barrels for shipping and sale also would have meant that the wood would also have added some flavour.

It would be easy to write several articles on the origins and history of Old Tom, but as I don’t really think I have anything to add to the already excellent works out there, I shall merely say that Old Tom Gin originated during the 18th century and was available until the 1960s; it’s quite possible that Gordon’s was one of the last producers.

The focus of this article is taste. With the help of Kamil of the Graphic Bar and my friend & colleague, Mr. Clayton Hartley, we gathered 10 varieties of Old Tom Gin for us to taste. Also on our panel were: the illustrious Mrs B, Mr Adam Smithson and Master Distiller of Beefeater, Mr. Desmond Payne.

L-R:Haymans Old Tom, Home-made BAtch#2, Secret Treasures 2007 Old Tom Gin, Home-made Batch #3, Boths Old Tom Gin.

The Old Tom Gins were all tasted neat and at room temperature.

#1 Xoriguer (38%ABV)
A gin from Menorca with geographic protection and can only be made in the Port of Mahon on the island.

Nose: A fair amount of juniper, with strong floral notes, including grapeflower. Reminded some of the panel of pines and a forest.
Taste: This had a very complex start: the flavours were intense and then diminished over time in a diminuendo of flavour. Soft and silky, rich in juniper and very floral; not too sweet and had a faint, and not unpleasant, hint of soap. Well-liked by the panel.

It was suggested that this was one of the closest to Old Tom Gin and that, with a little extra sweetness and a touch more oakiness, it would be almost spot-on. With this in mind, I exposed a small batch of Xoriguer to half a dozen oak chips for 8 hours and added a touch of sugar syrup. The resultant light-golden coloured liquid emphasises the floral notes of the gin and a touch of vanilla was added from the oak, along with a smidgen more sweetness on the palette. Maybe this is pretty close? Who knows?

£21.40 for 70cl from The Whisky Exchange

#2 Both’s Old Tom Gin (47%ABV)
Both’s Old Tom Gin is made by The Both’s Distillery (founded 1886) for Haromex of Germany and bottled at 47%ABV it was the strongest proof we tried. It was designed to reflect the Old Tom Gin of the 19th century for use in cocktails such as the Martinez. The label, reminiscent of fuzzy 70s wallpaper in texture, looks to have been inspired by the label of Booth’s Old Tom Gin (discontinued), this gives the packaging a nice historical edge.

Nose: citrus with herbal undertones
Taste: sweet citrus and juniper, some fennel and anise too. Reminds we of local herb liqueurs of mountainous Europe. Very silky and very pleasant to drink
I really liked this as did most of the panel although most felt it improved slightly when cut with a little water as at 47% it was a touch over-powering, even so, very good indeed.

#3 Home-made Batch #2
Firstly batch #1 was a small test batch and so there wasn’t enough for this tasting. This is based on a recipe by David Wondrich which uses a blend of gin, whisky and sugar. I decided to use the roughest gin I could find (ironically this is made by the same distillery that make my all-time favourite gin) with reference to theory of the sugar being there to make the spirit more palatable.

Nose: Fruity, sweet a bit like fruit chewing gum.
Taste: A bit to sweet for most peoples palettes, but this is something that can be rectified. some berry elements and a final flavour of Barley Sugar.

#4 Ransom Old Tom Gin (44%ABV)
Made by Ransom Spirits of Oregon, USA. It is described as an historic recreation of the type of Gin that was in fashion during the mid 1800s in America. The recipe for Ransom Old Tom Gin was developed in collaboration with David Wondrich.

Nose: Very strong nose, juniper and herbs a bit like the 1812 Gin Liqueur or Ginger Wine..
Taste: This didn’t taste like any of the others we tried, it was very bitter and although not to my taste it was liked by quite of few of the panel members, including my wife. There were some hints of dried fruits, such as Papaya as well as some complex herbal notes.

Even though this is not like the other Old Toms we liked it was antique cocktails and it could make a pronounced difference in cocktails, it’s not going to be to every-one’s taste  but those that do like it will love it.

Ransom retails for around $36 for a bottle but is not currently available in the UK.

#5 Secret Treasures 2007 (40%ABV)
This is specifically described as an “Old Tom Style” Gin and is part of Haromex‘s Secret Treasures Collection, Germany and was created by created by Master Blender, Hubertus Vallendar in Kail. The bottle we tried was one of 688 produced in 2007. It uses a double distillation process and the Juniper come from the Apennines.

Nose: soft with some juniper and floral notes, sweet elements too.
Taste: a very fresh beginning like cucumber, in particular cucumber skin. A hint of sweetness but the gin remains quite dry, some pine and a little oakiness at the end.

If you tend to find many Old Toms a bit too sweet, this is worth a try.

#6 Home-made Batch #3 (Oaked)
Made in the same way as Batch#2 but this was put in a jam jar with a few whisky barrel chippings for 24 hours.

Nose: liquorice ice-cream, caramel and onion skin.
Taste: Much better than Batch#2 the oak has mellowed out the rough edges of the gin. This was pleasant enough with hint of vanilla and caramel but sadly not much juniper. On the upside it was smooth and easy enough to drink but on the downside it was not very gin-like and it was a bit sweet.

I think recipe is a pretty good representation and can give some really good results, but like any recipe the end product is only as good as it’s ingredients also I think I made it too sweet.

L-R: Dorchester Old Tom Gin (2007), Ransom Old Tom, Xoriguer Gin, Jensens Old Tom Gin

#7 Jensen Old Tom Gin (43%ABV)
From the creator of the Bermondsey Gin, this Old Tom is based on an original recipe dating back to the 1840s. Jensen’s take the view that Old Tom was sweeter, in order to hide impurities in the gin, but they suggest that this sweetness came from a more intense botanical mix rather than adding sugar (the cost of sugar being prohibitively high).

Nose: juniper and heavy spice on the nose, one panellist said it reminded them of a glue stick, but not in a negative way. Complex with quite a bit of depth.
Taste: Not very sweet and a lot of the elements of the nose come out in the taste, pine and strong herbal elements, there finish is reminiscent of liquorice powder and this is where any sweetness comes from. Definitely distinctive from the other we tried, it rather split the opinion of the group.

£24.50 for 70cl from The Whisky Exchange

#8 The Dorchester Old Tom Gin 2007 (40%ABV)
This is made exclusively for The Dorchester Hotel, London by William Grants, the folks behind Hendrick’s Gin. I gather it was created to enable the barmen to authentically recreate some of the truly classic cocktails. I don’t how many runs there have been but I have only ever seen the 2007 bottling.

Nose: delicate and fragrant. Hints of rose and sandalwood, undoubtedly perfume-like.
Taste: sweet but not without dryness, the gin also had some floral notes. It was silky and smooth with hints of lavender and violet, some panel member were reminded of coniferous forests but all agreed it was very good, well balanced with a real depth of character.

The Dorchester Old Tom Gin is available for around £70 for 70cl from The Dorchester Hotel shop.

#9 Hayman’s Old Tom Gin
This was one the first of the new recreations of Old Tom Gin it is lightly sweetened and botanically intensive and is based on an historic recipe from James Borough the ancestor of current Master Distiller of Haymans, Christopher Hayman.

Nose: good solid juniper nose, a little sweet citrus, like Orange cremes.
Taste: very clearly gin, with slightly more intense flavour and an added sweetness. A very neat product and quite easy to drink. IF you see Old Tom as sweetened gin with a little more bang from the botanicals this would be a good choice. Very good indeed.

£19.90 for 70cl from The Whisky Exchange

#10 Artisan Bar at The Langham Hotel
This is a blend of two mystery gins and some nuts and is then aged in a barrel.
Nose: Very interesting, notes of tea, toffee, dark chocolate and fresh Bran flakes.
Taste: Very complex with a bitter-sweet start. Dryness to start and then some sweet nuttiness such as hazelnut and just a hint of walnut. A rather tannin like finish, such as you might get from a tea liqueur. A complex and flavourful variety that was a treat to try.
All the panel enjoyed the taste of this variety but one downside was that it wasn’t especially characteristic of gin.

It seems that the Old Toms fell, generally, into two categories: those that were more botanically intense and also sweet (Hayman’s, Dorchester, Both’s and The Home-mades), and those that were just more botanically intense (Jensen, Ransom, Secret Treasures). It also seems that it was the former category that was more popular with the panel.

THE RESULTS

#1) The Dorchester Old Tom

#2) Xoriguer Mahon Gin

#3) Both’s Old Tom

#4) Hayman’s Old Tom

#5) Langham Hotel Old Tom

However both The Dorchester and Both’s Old Tom are currently very tricky to get hold of in the UK and so as a starter Old Tom to try out a few vintage cocktails with I would suggest giving Hayman’s a try, also being around the £20 mark it’s not too expensive to experiment with.

In conclusion, for a little while I have suspected that there may not be one single description of an “Old Tom Gin” and that at different times and in different places it meant something different. Looking at the variety of characteristics of the brands we have tried and the authenticity of the methods used to create them, I think this surely must be the case.

Xoriguer was a really interesting find and I think that using it as an Old Tom (particularly if it has been slightly sugared and oaked) has a lot of potential and deserves further research.
*Following a conversation with the Production Manager at Boord’s plant in the USA, it turns out that my view was vindicated, as Boord’s Old Tom is just a normal compound gin, perfectly respectable in it’s own right, but not designed, marketed or considered (in the slightest) as a gin in the Old Tom Style; Old Tom is just their name. This is a similar situation to Wray & Nephew’s Old Tom gin.

A Special Thanks To:

James Hayman for providing us with a sample and the excellent picture of Gordon’s Old Tom, Chris Seale of Speciality drinks, Blue Island Ltd., Harald of Haromex, Kamil and the folks at Graphic bar, Mr. Clayton Hartley, Desmond Payne of Beefeater and of course, the lovely Mrs. B.

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Update Bonus Old Tom Tasting Notes

Sounds Spirits Old Tom Gin (40.0% ABV)
Made by Sound Spirits of Seattle, Washington which holds the moniker of being Seattle’s first distillery since prohibition. Their old tom gin is rested on oak chips for about a month; it uses less juniper and more spice than the distillery’s Ebb and Flow dry gin.
Color: Very light yellow
Nose: Warm citrus, lemon, lime and orange, with complex spiced notes
Taste: A good spiciness up front, nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger followed by some citrus and juniper, then coriander and finally some dry floral notes on a long finish.

Spring 44 (44.0% ABV)
Made in Loveland, Colorado this old tom gin contains a mix of 7 botanicals: juniper, coriander seed, orris root, lemongrass, rosemary, galangal root and pink grapefruit peel. The gin is aged in new, toasted, not charred, American oak barrels for 6 months to add a little warmth.
Nose: Very strong juniper – pine, but with an intriguing vegetal note alongside it and a sweetness, too, like celery with hints of sweet licorice powder.
Taste: The same vegetal notes from the nose come through on the taste, with a combination of savory, sour and bitter notes, including celery. The finish is slightly sweet, like licorice sticks, with more straightforward notes of piney juniper at the very end.

Downslope Ould Tom Gin (42.5 %ABV)
Made by Downslope Distillers near Denver, Colorado it is designed as an interpretation of a late 1800s style gin. It contains a mix of seven botanicals and is aged in wood for a number of months.
Color: Golden orange.
Nose: Some dry cider apple notes and then some bready maltiness.
Taste: A good full texture, some ripe apple to start followed by some sweet herbal notes, cinnamon and nutmeg. Reminiscent of a spiced baked apple. This is followed by a little maltiness and then some dry citrus, juniper and a hint of chocolate. A very complex example of Ould Tom Gin, as sippable as a malt whisky.

Goldencock Gin (38.0% ABV)
Dating from either the 1940s or 1950s and made in Norway by Arcus, Goldencock is the only old tom gin that still exists from the time before most brands stopped producing it. Given that it is not exported from Norway, it remained largely unknown for decades, with only scant reference in some books.
Nose: Juniper, coriander, citrus sweetness
Taste: Strong and intense flavor with herbal notes up-front, rosemary thyme and a hint of mint followed by some juniper pine. This is followed by a little sweet spice, lots of licorice and then a dry citrus finish.

Hammer & Sons Old English Gin (44.0% ABV)
Made at the Langley distillery in the oldest gin still in the UK, with a recipe dating from 1783. The gin contains a mix of 11 botanicals (juniper, coriander, angelica, lemon, orange, orris, cardamom, cassia, licorice, cinnamon, and nutmeg) and 4 grams of sugar per liter. The gin is unusually packaged in reused champagne bottles with a silkscreen print.
Nose: Vibrant, sweet lemon and vanilla, like lemon cheesecake, with a little soapy coriander, before returning to a fresher, lemon note.
Taste: Very smooth, with a hint of sweetness to start that is quickly outshone by strong notes of juniper, lemongrass, and coriander. The finish is of soapy coriander, juniper, and a dry note like wood crossed with soda water.

 

Dry Vermouth Tasting – With SW4 Gin

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Anyone that has been following my series on Martini Gadgets will realise I have a passion for this mixture of gin and vermouth. As gin has become increasingly popular, a wide array of gin tastings have taken place, held in London, Manchester and Oxford, to name but a few. But what about the vermouth? When a cocktail only has two ingredients, even the lesser partner is a crucial component.

Vermouth is an automatized wine. The flavour is determined by “appropriate derived substances” (e.g. seeds, herbs, spices, roots) and there is no prescribed combination of these, with the one exception that a Vermouth must contain an Artemisia (such as wormwood). Vermouth can be sweetened, but only with caramelized sugar, sucrose or grape must.

Typically there are three main types of vermouth:
Red: A sweet style that is coloured with either caramel or herbs. Often drunk as an aperitif or in cocktails such as the Manhattan and Martinez (both potential ancestors of the Martini).
White: A sweet style based on white wine.
Dry: A dry style, also based on white wine and synonymous with the modern Martini.

Two more styles seem to be growing increasingly popular: Rose Vermouth and Orange/Ambre Vermouth.

All of the vermouths in our tasting were tried on their own and then we tried our top ten in a Dry Martini.

Dry Martini Details
SW4 Gin
5:1 Ratio
Stirred
No Garnish

#1) Martini Extra Dry (Italy) (15%)

A very familiar product to most and synonymous with its namesake cocktail.

Own: On the nose, there is a little pistachio and wet slate. This is quite dry; probably one of the driest we tried. It was quite simple and rather tart.

Martini: Pretty good, a classic drink. It’s a popular brand, readily available and makes a decent drink. This is an excellent fall-back when it’s difficult to get hold of some of the more obscure varieties.

Martini Extra Dry is available from most supermarkets and off-licences for around £8 (75cl).

#2) Noilly Prat Dry (France) (18%)

Own: A very fruity nose with a hint of nail polish. Great scents of honey and blossom, and the slightest hint of salt. One panelist likened the nose to that of a good muscat. Noilly Prat has depth of flavours and is quite complex. There is some jamminess, akin to an apricot preserve, and there is a pleasant warmth at the end. Very popular with the panelists.

Martini: A truly classic Martini and exactly what I would expect when ordering a Dry Martini. Excellent balance between gin and vermouth, with just enough herbal flavours to complement the gin without overpowering it. Cool, clean and crisp.

Available from Waitrose around £10 for 75cl.

#3) Filipetti Extra Dry Vermouth (Italy) (14.8%)

Perlino also make a Blanco and a sweet vermouth, as well as Martelletti, a Classico Vermouth.

Own: Dry; exactly what you’d expect from dry vermouth. Some floral aspects like a good muscat. Well balanced with hints of honey and cinnamon. Very pleasant.

Martini: In the proportions of 5:1, this made the wettest Martini of those that we tried. The dry and slightly fruity flavours have a strong presence in the cocktail and, if you like only a whisp of Vermouth flavour in your Martini, this is worth a look.

#4) Dolin Chamberry Dry Vermouth (France) (17.5%)

Made in Chambery, near the French-Swiss border, this has a wine content of 75-80%, which is notably higher than some of its competitors. Dolin also make a Blanco and a Rosso vermouth.

Own: A musky, tropical nose with notes of passionfruit and guava. Soft flavours, well-rounded, simple and neat. This would make an excellent aperitif and has a lovely aftertaste. A couple of panelists likened it to a dry sherry. Another popular vermouth amongst our panel.

Martini: Exceptionally clean, with a slightly warm texture. Strong, but not overpowering flavours of Juniper and Angelica, a balanced bitterness and a touch of cinnamon. The vermouth compliments SW4 well.

Available from Waitrose around £8 for 75cl.

#5) Stock (Italy) (16%)

Made by the Stock Spirit Company, whose biggest markets are in Italy and Slovenia, Stock is made with Italian Table Wine and Italian Brandy and is infused with more than 50 herbs & spices. They also make a Blanco and a Rosso vermouth, in addition to a very tasty Maraschino.

This has a superb, fresh leafy green flavour and was a favourite of one of the panel. It made a very flavourful Martini whilst still maintaining the underlying characteristics of a Dry Martini.


#6) Cinzano (Italy) (15%)

Founded in 1757 in Turin, Cinzano is owned by Gruppo Campari. Cinzano has a Classic range, comprising of a Dry, Red, White and Rosé varieties, and a Mediterranean range: Limetto and Orancio, which are vermouths with twists of orange and lemon (somewhat akin to the old Martini Limon).

Own: A fruity nose, akin to a house white wine, with some peach notes. It tastes like sweet grape juice and is not very dry, as vermouths go. The taste is much better than the smell, but the panel was left unimpressed.

Martini: Quite a basic Martini; pretty good, but lacks the depth and crispness of some of the others.

Available from Waitrose around £5 for 75cl.

#7) Vya (USA) (17%)

Made in Madera, California, Vya was made in response to an increasing number of premium gins making their way into the market; the idea being that, if you’re spending $30 on a gin, does it make sense to then mix it with a $6 vermouth? They also make a sweet variety of their premium vermouth.

Own: Vya had a nose reminiscent of fresh vegetation: cabbage or pea pods. The panel disagreed on their opinion of the taste: some enjoyed its definitive flavours, which were fresh and bright with hints of cloves and liquorice, whereas others found it exceptionally bitter and overpowering.

Martini: Cool and flavoursome with hint of cinnamon and spice, followed by a lightly bitter edge at the end. Complex and slips down the throat very easily, moving toward the intense flavours of the home-made vermouth.

Available from The Whisky Exchange for around £16 for 75cl.

#8) Top Shelf (UK)

This is based on a flavouring syrup produced by home-brew specialist Still Spirits. They suggest mixing it with either vodka or wine, so we decided to try both versions.

i) Wine-based (14.7%) – This had a nose of moth balls; slightly sherberty. Very sour, very dry, a bit like cordial. Watching the physical recoil of people as they tasted it was very interesting. As a result, this is not recommended, although it should be noted that mixing the syrup with a better quality wine would probably improve the results.

ii) Vodka-based (Sipsmith) (16%) – With a nose of moth balls and lavender perfume, this reminded one of the panel of their great aunt. The taste is much better than the wine version, being sweet with hints of creamy vanilla, although some of this obviously came from the vodka. Not so dry and closer to a Sweet Bianco than a Dry vermouth, this was nonetheless quite palatable and had an interesting a hint of Christmas spice.

Top Shelf Dry Vermouth Flavourings is available here for £2.29 for 50ml (One 50ml bottle makes up to 1.125 litres of Dry Vermouth.)

#10) Berlino (UK) (13%)

Berlino is produced and bottled by Continental Wine and Food (CWF), who are based in Huddersfield. Although it looks a lot like vermouth, it is in fact billed as “Extra Dry Aperitif”, made from the “finest quality concentrated grape juice, herbs and spices.”

Own: There were various cries of disgust at the smell of this; “wet dog” and “drains” were among two of the more polite comments. It had very little flavour and was rather watery, but did have a sharp, bitter finish. This was the least popular of the varieties we tried. At £3.20 a bottle it may look like a cheap alternative, but it would be a false economy.

Belrino is available from Tesco for around £3.20 for 70cl.

Mr Hartley waits, in anticipation, for the tasting to start.

#11) Home-made (UK)

Based on a recipe from the Plymouth Martini Book, which can be found here, this vermouth was designed specifically for Plymouth Gin, but we were intrigued as to how it would fare with SW4.

Own: Fresh, with a slightly meaty nose, one panelist likened it to hotdogs (in a most positive way). Another comment stated that it was reminiscent of a German Christmas market, with mulled wine, stollen and bratwurst. The taste was rather savoury and quite heavy on cloves, with some hints of anise and angelica too. Without a doubt, it had very intense flavours, but was also very good. If you’ve never tried making your own vermouth, I highly recommend it.

Martini: Very popular with the panel, this was jam-packed with flavour. This vermouth may not produce your typical, very clean, very crisp Martini, but it is an excellent drink nonetheless and, if you like a wetter, more flavourful Martini, then this is definitely worth trying. Cloves and Christmas spice come through, but complement the gin well.

#12) Lillet Blanc (17%)

Own: A very light and subtle nose of white grape, grass and dried flowers. Sweeter than expected, this was less complex and thinner than the Jean de Lillet, but, served cold, it is an excellent aperitif and an all-round good product.

Martini: A soft Martini that was less herbal than normal. Simple flavours, less bite and some subtle citrus. Smooth and delicate, and rounds off the gin nicely.

Available from The Whisky Exchange for around £15 for 75cl.

#13) Jean de Lillet

Own: Strong, savoury nose; fresh and very appetising. The taste is quite sweet, with overtones of honey, blossom, apple, pear and peach. It’s a little buttery and reminiscent of a quality Sauternes. This was really very, very good and there would be little danger of it oxidising before the bottle was finished. It had a finish of apricot stones, apple and almond.

Martini: A rich and flavourful Martini, this does make a truly excellent drink, but for my money I’d rather drink it neat. We also tried it in a Vesper as a substitute for Kina Lillet and the drink certainly had a more bitter edge and was pleasant golden yellow, although perhaps not quite sweet enough.

A selection of the Vermouths we tasted

#14) Gancia Bianco (14.8%)

Own: The nose of Gancia Bianco had hints of sloe gin and lemonade. Floral and herbal. The taste is very pleasant and was a very nice surprise: it was a little syrupy, like mead. It also had a finish of lemon pith, which counteracts the sweetness well.

Martini: A very flavourful Martini and not too sweet. I’d never really thought of using Bianco vermouth in many cocktails, but in a Martini it worked well; nice for a change.

Available from The Whisky Exchange for around £12 for 75cl.

#15) Martini Gold (Italy) (18%)

Own: Very floral on the nose, with hints of tea, lavender and Bergamot. The taste is quite smooth and sweet, but has an underlying bitterness akin to Campari or Suze. Quite a long finish, with the saffron coming through. Very much a departure from their traditional range, but a product with potential.

Martini: On the face of it, this is a pretty standard martini – cool and crisp – but there is definitely a more bitter finish than usual, with herbs and spice and the hint of saffron, which works well with the bitter elements. It’s like you’ve made a martini half with vermouth, half with a bitter apertif.

Available from The Whisky Exchange for around £21 for 75cl.


In Conclusion
From our tasting, it is clear that the vermouth you choose for your Martinis can have a big impact on the drink and so it’s a decision worth some consideration. It’s also clear that vermouth is something that is more versatile than I had previously thought: its merits extend beyond its use in Martinis and that, by over-looking Bianco/White vermouth, I’ve been missing out; definitely something to look into.

THE RESULTS

Best Aperitif: Dolin
Best Martini: Noilly Prat, Home-made
Best All-rounder: Fillipetti

Special Recommendation: Jean de Lillet

A special thanks to Pernod Ricard, Bacardi-Martini, Lillet, Marblehead, Speciality Brands, Vya, Perlino, Stock Spirits Interntional, Imbue and Graphic Bar for their support in this tasting.

Thanks also to SW4 Gin for providing the Gin for our Martinis.

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Alcoholic Ginger Beer Tasting – June 2012 Edition


Update November 2012 – Ginger Grouse Added,

Update July 2012Since the market has expanded so much we undertook a second tasting incorporating the new products, the new results are below.

Following the success of our non-alcoholic ginger beer tasting, natural progression seemed to recommend a tasting of their alcoholic counterparts, although it should be noted that only Fentiman’s and Crabbie’s currently make both alcoholic and non-alcoholic ginger beer.

The ginger beers were tried blind, thanks to the help of our server, Mrs. B, and we tasted them both on their own and with ice. The tasting was conducted by myself and my grandfather, David Smith Snr (a long-time ginger beer fan).

During our tasting we noticed that the ginger beers fell broadly (there was some cross-over) into two categories:
1) Traditional: these follow a similar flavour profile to non-alcoholic ginger beers; and
2) Ale-led: these have a more “ale-like” flavour profile and are typically made by beer breweries.

Traditional-Style Ginger Beer

From left to right: Hollow’s, Stone’s, Crabbie’s

#1 Stone’s Ginger Joe (4.0%ABV)

Made by the company that makes Stone’s Ginger Wine and my favourite fruit cup (sadly discontinued), this isn’t out on the market yet and so we were very lucky to get a sneak preview.
The product uses their famous ginger wine as a base and is named after Joseph Stone, a grocer with a fine moustache and founder of the Stone’s Company.

Ginger Joe doesn’t taste too alcoholic (this was a favourite of my Grandma, who doesn’t usually drink alcohol) and was sweet, but had a nice amount of ginger behind it. There was slight syrupyness (reminiscent of ginger wine), but this didn’t spoil the drink. Stone’s did improve with ice, where the flavours became more pronounced. All in all, the drink was tasty and refreshing; I’ll look forward to its release.

Stone’s Ginger Joe is available from Ocado for £1.60 for 330ml and will be available in Tesco for £1.95 for 330ml,

#2 Crabbie’s Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer (4.0%ABV)

Made by the same firm that has been producing Ginger Wine and Whisky Mac for decades, Crabbie’s was the first of a new wave of alcoholic ginger beers to be released on the market and have recently expanded their portfolio (see here for more details); their most recent release is a non-alcoholic ginger beer: John Crabbie’s.

The Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer has tangy ginger on the nose and an initial taste that is reminiscent of ginger nut biscuits or ginger snaps. It had quite a long finish, with a warming tingle afterwards. This was quite fizzy and was slightly more beery than the Stone’s.
It was quite nice on ice, but we both felt that it lost some of its character and, therefore, would prefer to drink it chilled without ice.

Crabbie’s is available in Tesco, Waitrose, Asda, Sainsbury’s for around £1.50 for 500ml

Crabbie’s is also available at J.D. Wetherspoons.

#3 Hollow’s Superior Alcoholic Ginger Beer (4.0%ABV)

This ginger beer is made by that bastion of the soft drinks world, Fentiman’s. Both their tonic water and non-alcoholic ginger beer have done very well in previous tastings on Summer Fruit Cup.

Hollows was launched in September 2010, is botanically brewed and contains pear juice. It is named after John Hollow’s the son-in-law of Thomas Fentiman. It appeared lighter and more cloudy than the others and there were interesting floral notes in the nose. The floral aspects continue in the flavour of the drink, with little hints of violets. This reminded me of ginger lemonade or a strong ginger ale (the soft variety), with the alcohol element being far from over-powering.
On ice, this was very refreshing, although we thought some of the complexity of the flavour was lost.

Hollow’s is available from The Drink Shop at £2.13 for 500ml.

#4 Church’s (Aldi) Alcoholic Ginger Beer (4.0%ABV)

This is available at a very reasonable £1.39 for 500ml, so it’s pretty cheap, but how does it taste?

This is quite fiery and gingery, but probably the least alcoholic-tasting that I have had. It was very similar in many respects, except colour, to Old Jamaican Ginger Beer and had that same heavy warmth of fieriness at the end. The upside of this is that it is not too sweet, which means you could probably drink more of it. There’s also a slight, bitter muskiness at end. The downside is that it is may be a touch too fizzy for my liking.

Still, it represents excellent value for money and is a pretty good product overall.

Church’s is available from Aldi for £1.39 for 500ml.

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#5 Sainsbury’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer* (3.8%ABV)

This beer was created by the Head Brewer of Freeminer Brewery, Don Burgess, a gentleman who lives “to brew beer, not make money”. Thanks to Chris to altering us to this variety

The beer is quite gingery, but, thankfully, not too sweet. It has a good level of fizz, without being overly effervescent. The flavour starts off slowly and then builds in a crescendo of spiciness. The finish is long, but, apart from the residual tingle from the ginger, is relatively hollow. This ginger beer is refreshing and quite easy to drink; we both enjoyed it and would buy it again.

I was intrigued that, despite being made in a brewery, this was not an ale-led ginger beer and in fact was more similar to soft-drink-style ginger beer.

Sainsbury’s Taste The difference Alcoholic Ginger Beer is available for £1.62 for 500ml from Sainsbury’s

#6 Crabbie’s Spiced Orange Ginger Beer (4.0%ABV)

Crabbies have taken their original formula and added natural orange extract and a hint of spice.

This had a medium fizz; it seems slightly less fizzy than normal Crabbies.
Initially, there are flavours of ginger and vanilla, which are followed by slightly spicy, bittersweet orange; in some ways, this reminds me of chocolate orange. This is then followed by the familiar Crabbies ginger fire.
I consider this to be a modest modification on the original, but the new flavours are certainly noticeable and quite welcome. It’s seasonality will keep it special.

Crabbie’s Orange is available from Morrisons for £1.99 for 500ml.

#7 Crabbie’s Black Reserve Ginger Beer (6.0%ABV)

This created by reserving some of the original alcoholic ginger beer during the steeping process and oak mature it with extra spice, citrus and steeped ginger.

nose: strong slightly syrupy with a hint of spice and fire at the end
taste: crisp and citrusy to start with then some sweetness and a good kick of ginger fire. Medium to low fizz touch of smokiness to.  This is refreshing, easy to drink and pleasantly quaffable.
with ice: the ice chills the ginger beer down nicely and on a scorch hot day this would be lovely, when it’s not so sweltering I’d go for having Crabbie’s Black chilled from the fridge to stop the drink becoming too watery.

Crabbie’s Black Reserve is available from Tesco for £1.99 for 330ml.

#8 tESCO sIMPLY ALCOHOLIC Ginger BEer (4.0%ABV)

Tesco were a little behind the curve on making a soft-style alcoholic ginger beer. However, following in the footsteps of Morrison’s and Sainsbury’s, they havehad an ale-led alcoholic ginger beer for a good while now. When I purchased my bottle, it was available at a promotional price of £1, but the regular price is still a reasonable £1.50.

I thought it had a medium-high fizz, good levels of fiery ginger and wasn’t too sweet. As such, it was refreshing and very easy to drink.
I would say that this is the alcoholic ginger beer that most closely tastes like a soft version. With added ice, this was even more cooling and refreshing; the ice brings out additional hints of citrus, making it highly quaffable. Overall, this had a great taste and was even better value for money.


Tesco Simply Alcoholic Ginger Beer is available from Tesco for around £1.39 for 500ml.

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#9 JEREMIAH WEED ROOT BREW (4.0%ABV)

Bottled at 4%ABV this had an intriguing nose of sweet ginger, sarsaparilla and malt. To taste, it had quite a rich texture and, like the Sour Mash brew, a medium-low level of fizz. The ginger was definitely there, along with some herbal and citrus notes. Not too sweet, it was quite refreshing on its own, even without ice. The finish had reasonable fire to it.

Once ice was added, I found that the fire became far more restrained and, as a result, the drink became more refreshing. It was nice served with a lemon wedge.

Overall, this was well-balanced and easy-to-drink.

Jeremiah Weed Root Brew is available from most supermarkets for around £1.80 for 500ml.

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#10 Morrison’s New Season Cider with Ginger Flavour (4.0%ABV)

This ginger beer is actually a ginger cider and is made by H Westons & Sons of Herefordshire, (they make a large range of cider and perry, including  my favourite, Old Rosey, a really great, scrumpy-style cider. That said I’d say that this I’d say it a pretty comparable product.

Nose: Jammy, citrus and ginger. A bit like ginger marmalade.

Taste: Rather pleasant; dry, juicy and, whilst the ginger is there, there’s no definitive burn or fire. Finally, there’s a little vanilla at the end. There’s some muskiness and hints of almond, too. It’s very refreshing, not too sweet and, although initially the ginger is faint, as you drink more, its effects builds up.

Morrison’s New Season Cider with Ginger Flavour is available form Morrison’s for £1.50 for 500ml.

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#11 Brother’s Special Edition Ginger Cider (4.0%ABV)

This ginger beer is actually a ginger cider and is made by Brother’s (they also make pear, tutti fruitti, strawberry and toffee apple cider to name but a few) but I’d say it a pretty comparable product.

Funnily enough, this tastes like ginger cider (who’d have thought it?); however, it also has similarities to the sweeter alcoholic ginger beers, such as Crabbies. Brother’s Ginger is not too fizzy and not too sweet and is really quite refreshing; however, one downside is that after one bottle, it is a bit sickly. I don’t think that I’d bother with ice for this drink; just serve it straight from the fridge. Whilst this is not technically a ginger beer, it is worth trying if you enjoy the likes of Crabbies, Stones and Frank’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer – if you like cider, too, so much the better!

Brother’s is available from Tesco for £1.99 for 500ml.

 

#12 GINGER GROUSE (4.0%ABV)

This first time a whisky company  has got into making  ginger beer, this drink is (partly) fortified with Famous Grouse Blended Scotch, this make sense as a Scotch and Ginger Ale is a classic and refreshing drink.

On its own (chilled)
Nose: Warm ginger, hints of sweet butter.
Taste: Whilst not overly or forcibly bubbly, lots of small bubbles do rush over your tongue initially. The flavour is then light and refreshing, with notes of citrus – both lemon and lime, and both buttery and creamy, reminding me of lemon tart and key lime pie. The whisky is subtle, but present from the outset, adding a very light woodiness that reminds me of a Whisky & Ginger; the main difference being the stronger, more fiery notes of ginger on the finish that gradually build up as you drink more. All in all, this is tasty, refreshing, and very easy to drink.

Ginger Grouse is available from Tesco for £2 for 500ml.

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Ale-led Ginger Beer

From left to right: Tesco, M&S, Frank’s Williams’

#12 Frank’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer (4.0%ABV)

From the folks that brought you Koppaberg Cider comes Frank’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer. Made in Sweden in the style of Genuine Swedish Ginger Beer, this is described as a traditional beer blended with ginger. Frank’s also make an Alcoholic Root Beer.

This was somewhat of a hybrid between the two categories and we both quite enjoyed it. The drink had a frothy head and smelt rather malty. The drink in itself was quite fizzy and, with hops and malt throughout, much more like beer than the previous varieties. I also got a subtle flavour of apples from the drink, too. In addition to all of this, it also had a strong ginger flavour that became more pronounced as you drank it. However, this didn’t improve with ice.

Frank’s Ginger Beer is available from Tesco’s for around £1.99 for 500ml. It is also available at J.D. Wetherspoons.

#13 William’s Ginger Beer (3.8%ABV)

Made by Williams Bros Brewing Company in Scotland, William’s Ginger is described as having a “beery” flavour even though it contains no hops. This was pretty beery with some light ginger flavours initially, followed by a very strong ginger aftertaste.

If you find most ginger beers too sweet and would find something like the M&S (see #6) too far-removed from ginger beer, this is definitely worth trying. It’s worth noting that this did not improve with ice, but then real ale doesn’t usually go well with ice.

#14 Marks and Spencer’s “Ginger Ale” (6.0%ABV)

This is a blend of Fredrick Robinson’s Dark Ale with Fentiman’s Traditional Ginger Beer, in an approximate 70/30 ratio, and is bottled exclusively for Marks and Spencer. Robinson’s also make a separate beer called Ginger Tom, which is also a dark ale blended with Fentiman’s.

The Ginger Ale was very dark; the same colour as coke. It tasted predominately of ale and, to befair, we easily guessed which one this was. There was some ginger on the finish, but its taste didn’t readily identify it as a ginger beer and, as far as real ale goes, I’d rather have a pint of something else. It was a bad idea to add ice to this.

Marks and Spencer “Ginger Ale” is available from M&S £1.99 for 330ml.

#15 Tesco’s Finest Alcoholic Ginger Beer (3.8%ABV)

Like #5, this is also made by Williams Bros Brewing Company of Scotland. It’s worth noting that this is effectively the same product as #5, but it was interesting that the Tesco variety was darker, despite the flavours being very similar. I would suggest that the best way to serve this was slightly chilled but not too cold.

Tesco’s Finest Ginger Beer is available from Tesco’s (suprise, suprise) for around £1.79 for 500ml.


#16 Piddle Brewery’s Leg Warmer Ginger Beer (4.3%ABV)

From the Piddle Brewery in Piddlehinton, Dorset.  Amongst other products, they also make the following beers: Jack’s Riddle, Silent Slasher and the seasonal Santa’s Potty.

Leg Warmer itself is a seasonal beer, for the summer, and it is made with Styrian Golding and Saaz hops and real ginger.

Certainly an ale-led Ginger Beer, it has the appearance of a cloudy pale ale, with no fizz; it is quite hoppy, with ginger at the end, but it is quite subdued. However, it is most pronounced on the aftertaste. It certainly isn’t one that you’d serve on ice and it has a suggested serving temperature of 12-13 oC. Unlike most of the other ale-led Ginger Beers, this is not too rich nor stout-like, which makes it rather more refreshing..

This is available from various Piddle Brewery Outlets.

#17 wYCHWOOD gINGERbEARD (4.2%ABV)

A dark, amber brown in colour.
nose: Initially, there was malt , followed by sweet ginger wine.
taste: Very smooth and quite sweet, with minimal fizz. It seemed like a real, middle ground between soda and ale.

with ice: much better, the flavour is tipped towards the soda side of that balance. Still, it’s a bit sweet and creamy, like ginger soda, but with malt undertones and a real, real fire on the aftertaste.

GingerBeard is available from most supermarkets for around £2 for 500ml.

#18 BADGER BLANdFORD FLYER (5.2%ABV)

This is made by the Hall & Woodhouse Badger Brewery of Blandford St. Mary in my neighbouring county of Dorset. They are well known for their ales, such as Badger’s First Gold , Tanglefoot and Fursty Ferret. This bottle has a fly fishing theme that appealed to an angler friend of mine.

This was certainly an ale-led ginger beer, being very smooth, not too fizzy and definitely not too sweet. It worked better chilled than over ice, providing a very refreshing tipple. Fans of heavy ginger notes may be disappointed, as the Flyerhas a more subtle fieriness, that only appears on the finish.

Blandford Flyer is available from Tesco and Waitrose for around £2 for 500ml.

#19 OLD TOM ALE WITH GINGER (6.0%ABV)

Made by Robinson’s of Stockport, this is a variation on their popular Old Tom Orignal Ale (which itself has a slight fieriness to it) with added ginger.

This was a deep, dark red-brown ale, with hops and hints of sarsaparilla and ginger on the nose.
Ale-like initially, this was followed by some sweetness, hints of vanilla, sarsaparilla, and wintergreen,with more ginger coming through towards the end. Intriguingly, rather than a ginger beer, this seemed to be more of a mix of ginger or root beer with dandelion & burdock and cream soda.
With ice, the drink became smoother and more refreshing and the ginger spice was more prominent. Overall, I would say this is one of
the better ale-led ginger beers.

Robinson’s Old Tom with Ginger is available from Sainsbury for around £2.50 for 330ml.


A very enjoyable evening.

In Conclusion

After the tasting, it was clear that we both preferred the Traditional Style Ginger Beers (although Mr. Hartley of the Institute of Alcoholic Experimentation preferred the Marks & Spencer’s version), which we found both more gingery and more refreshing. An 8th ginger beer (Crabbie’s Non-Alcoholic) was thrown in as a wild card, and the most noticeable difference was the colour. In terms of size we thought 330ml was the sweet point of size.
I also think that it’s worth noting that, although most of the brands suggested enjoying their drinks over ice, we both preferred them on their own and would simply drink them well-chilled from the fridge.

Here is our top 3, over which we reached a general consensus:

With Alcoholic Ginger Beers an Root Beers entering the market, a return to alcoholic lemonade? Personally I’m hoping for a hard Dandelion & Burdock.

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